AT Monitoring Desk
KABUL: The White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Axios in an exclusive interview that “it is possible” US President Donald Trump will cut a deal with the Taliban this year but that even if a deal can’t be struck, the president is still poised to reduce troops in Afghanistan.
“We’re back in a situation where we’re in talks with the Taliban,” O’Brien said. “The Afghan forces are doing better, and I think we’ll be in a position at some point soon, whether it’s with a deal or without a deal, to reduce our military footprint in Afghanistan.”
Trump has long said he wants to pull American troops out of Afghanistan. A source close to the president told Axios Trump views this as one of his biggest unmet promises. The source worries Trump would order a major drawdown before the 2020 election.
Asked whether he thought Trump would strike a deal with the Taliban before the election, O’Brien said, “I don’t judge things based on when the election’s going to take place, but I think it is possible that there’ll be a deal this year.”
“We’re working on it. But it has to be a good deal.”
“We were very close to doing a deal last year, and the Taliban felt that they could increase pressure on the United States by blowing up a bunch of people, including an American, right before some critical end-game talks. This president does not respond to that type of tactic.”
“The president said there has to be a reduction in violence prior to the signing of a deal and there needs to be a reduction of violence and immediate transition to inter-Afghan talks after a deal,” O’Brien added. “Ultimately it’s going to be up to the Afghans to bring peace to Afghanistan.”
Moreover, the United States and Taliban are negotiating a possible release of more than 5,000 militant prisoners and a reduction of Taliban violence before a peace deal could be struck, according to sources privy to the developments, in what is seen as an unprecedented concession to the militant group amid desperation for reconciliation.
The peace negotiations between the US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators enter the 10th round. The latest round was paused early December as the two sides went to consult their leaderships on the finalizing of peace deal.
Taliban and Khalilzad have been holding unofficial meetings since last week in Qatar.
Jalaluddin Shinwari, attorney general in Taliban government (1996-2001), said that the two sides were busy on when and where to sign the final deal.
“The Americans are emphasizing on violence reduction in Afghanistan and Taliban are urging the release of five prisoners,” Shinwari said, adding that the US had b probably agreed with the freedom of five Taliban inmates prior to the signing of the peace deal.