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US and Taliban reach 'agreement in principle' on Afghanistan peace deal


The framework for a peace deal follows six days of talks between the US and the Taliban, which were held last week in Qatar.

The US and the Taliban have reached "agreements in principle" on a peace deal - igniting hopes of ending more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has assured his people that their rights will not be compromised in the name of peace with the Taliban, which has been staging near-daily attacks against Afghan forces.

Six days of talks between the US and the Taliban were held last week in Qatar, where the Islamic insurgent group was urged to enter into direct negotiations with Mr Ghani's government.

Senior US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the framework of a peace deal - "which still has to be fleshed out" - would see Taliban insurgents commit to guaranteeing that Afghan territory is not used as a "platform for international terrorist groups or individuals".

He added that the deal could lead to a full pullout of US troops in return for a ceasefire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government.

Striking a note of caution, Mr Khalilzad added: "There is a lot more work to be done before we can say we have succeeded in our efforts but I believe for the first time I can say that we have made significant progress."

Mr Ghani has urged the Taliban - which until now has refused to deal with him and described him as a US "puppet" - to "accept the call of the people" and commence "serious talks" with his government.

Acting US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan described the talks as "encouraging", while NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said any discussion about the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan would be premature.

Mr Stoltenberg added: "We are in Afghanistan to create the conditions for a peaceful negotiated solution.

"We will not stay longer than necessary, but we will not leave before we have a situation that enables us to leave or reduce the number of troops without jeopardising the main goal of our presence and that is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists once again."

More than 3,400 allied military personnel (more than 2,400 of them Americans) have died in the war since 2001, when a US-led international force invaded to pursue al Qaeda, the terror group behind the 9/11 attacks.

An estimated 45,000 Afghan security personnel have lost their lives over the same period.

The US has about 14,000 troops in the country, most of which are present as part of a larger NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.

The Taliban ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and currently controls nearly half of the country.

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