Kabul welcomes US assurances on Taliban deal

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The Afghan government welcomed on Saturday a pledge by the Pentagon that the US would only accept a “good deal” from the Taliban after a wave of insurgent attacks sparked concerns of a hasty US withdrawal.

During a wide ranging press conference in Paris earlier Saturday US Defense Secretary Mark Esper sought to allay fears that Washington was looking for a quick exit from Afghanistan as it inches closer to a potential deal with the Taliban.

“My view, the US view is that the best way forward is a political agreement and that’s what we’re working diligently on right now,” Esper told reporters.

“That doesn’t mean we’ll take any deal, but we want to make sure we have a good deal, a good enough deal that guarantees at least the security of our countries going forward and a brighter future for the Afghan people.”

The remarks were greeted warmly in Afghanistan where the Taliban in the past week have attacked several provincial capitals and targeted Kabul with suicide bombers.

“The Afghan Government welcomes the latest remarks made by the Pentagon Chief on AFG peace process,” presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi wrote on Twitter.

“We echo the need for sustainable peace, end of violence and a meaningful peace that would guarantee the security of Afghanistan and its allies.”

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Kabul has been gripped by a surge in deadly violence even after the US and the insurgents reached an agreement “in principle” that would see the US pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan in return for various Taliban security promises.

But there is increasing unease about the deal, which Afghans fear will lead to a return of the hardline Islamist Taliban to power.

A growing chorus of US lawmakers and officials have also expressed doubts as US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad returned to Qatar this week for further talks with the insurgents.

Any deal would need final approval from President Trump, who has said that he wants to end American involvement in Afghanistan, launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

According to parts of the deal made public so far, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of its roughly 13,000 or so troops from five bases across Afghanistan by early next year.

The insurgents, in turn, will renounce al-Qaeda, promise to fight ISIS, a terrorist group, and stop extremists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.

The Afghan government, however, has repeatedly expressed doubts about the proposed deal, saying officials need more information about the risks it poses and warned that a hasty exit could lead to a wider civil war in the conflict-torn country.

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