Afghanistan: Stage set for landmark US, Taliban deal

The stage is set in Qatar's capital for a landmark peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban that could end the U.S.' longest war.

The Sheraton Hotel in Doha is teeming with foreign diplomats and dignitaries invited to witness the historic signing by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Taliban co-founder and deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Saturday.

The ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. local time (1100GMT).

The landmark peace deal was preceded by an agreement for week-long reduction in violence that ended on Friday.

The U.S.-Taliban deal includes pledges from Washington on a phased withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and a vow from the Taliban not to harbor international terrorists.

The U.S. currently has upwards of 12,000 troops in Afghanistan conducting operations in support of Afghan forces, as well as a broader anti-terror mission.

The Taliban will also commit to negotiations with Afghan officials, politicians, and civil society representatives.

The Afghan government formed an initial direct contact group to start talks with the Taliban, Javaid Faisal, spokesman for the National Security Council, told Anadolu Agency.

U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg are expected to issue a joint declaration on Saturday to reiterate support for the Afghan government.

U.S President Donald Trump also issued a statement late Friday, urging the Afghan people "to seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country."

He said the U.S. made "great progress in Afghanistan" in nearly 19 years "but at great cost to our brave service members, to the American taxpayers, and to the people of Afghanistan."

"When I ran for office, I promised the American people I would begin to bring our troops home, and seek to end this war. We are making substantial progress on that promise," Trump said.

"If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home … Ultimately it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to work out their future. We, therefore, urge the Afghan people to seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country."

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