8 dead in Afghan airstrike amid US-Taliban peace efforts

The United States and the Taliban agree to reduce violence in the first step towards a peace agreement

The Taliban have long demanded all foreign troops leave, and Trump has said he wants to bring USA forces home, telling a TV interviewer last week that "we shouldn't be there". But senior US diplomats and Pentagon officials believe that some residual USA military presence in Afghanistan is needed.

US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was fully committed to peacefully resolving the conflict with the Taliban radical group. "It looks very promising". If it succeeds, the longtime adversaries would sign a broader agreement whose details have not been disclosed, but are believed to include a timetable for the phased withdrawal of USA troops.

"That means enabling our diplomats and that means working together with our partners and allies on the ground to affect such a thing".

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has voiced cautious optimism about a partial truce agreed between the Taliban and United States, saying that a further announcement was expected in the coming 10 days.

The latest operation came as media reports suggested that significant progress had been made during recent negotiation talks between a US delegation and Taliban representatives in Qatar.

US officials have not publicly spelled out their timetable for an initial drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan, but the expectation is that a reduction from the current total of about 12,000 to 8,600 will begin after the signing of a US-Taliban deal. He said if the 7-day truce is successful and the next step toward Afghan peace talks begins, the USA would reduce its troop contingent "over time" to about 8,600.

Since the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation combat mission in January 2015, the U.S. maintains one contingent within the framework of the new allied mission of advising Afghan troops and another for "anti-terrorist" operations.

Now we have an agreement on the reduction of violence. Esper, however, said Ghani was supportive of the deal and had pledged to do his best to support it. That Taliban official said the agreement would provide for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners before the start of the negotiations. "He wants to lead his part of the process, which if we get to that would be a a peace deal that would involve very soon afterward an inter-Afghan negotiation".

The acid test of the Taliban's sincerity will be their willingness to accept elections, Mr Ghani said - something they have always refused to engage in. Ghani has insisted he lead the talks, while his political opponents and other prominent Afghans have called for more inclusive representation. The next step will be signing of an agreement between U.S. and Taliban-and then the intra-Afghan talks will be held, where Afghans determine the future of their country and role of the Taliban that they could play in it.

An air strike in Afghanistan has killed at least eight civilians, officials said on Saturday.



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