KABUL/Munich: An air strike in Afghanistan on Friday killed at least eight people — all believed to be civilians, residents said — following US statements that there had been a breakthrough in peace talks.
The new developments came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper met Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani in Munich on Friday. They spoke on the sidelines of an international security forum in Munich.
A truce had been widely anticipated, and Trump agreed in principle to the deal, according to US officials.
The final details were hammered out in recent days by US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. Khalilzad was in Munich and attended Pompeo and Esper’s meeting as did Gen Scott Miller, the commander of the US-led international force in Afghanistan.
Eight people were killed when a vehicle carrying civilians was targeted in an air strike in the eastern province of Nangarhar, according to residents. Taliban insurgents have a strong presence in the region.
Pompeo, Esper meet Afghan president in Munich
A spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar confirmed the incident but did not say who the victims were.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said 11 civilians were killed in the incident. Afghan, Taliban and US sources said over the last 48 hours that a deal to curb violence was on the verge of implementation.
An air strike on Thursday evening killed a senior Taliban commander and eight others in northern Balkh province, the Afghan defence ministry said.
Mujahid said the insurgents had killed six Afghan soldiers, including two officers, in an attack on a checkpoint in northern Kunduz province.
Afghan government forces and Taliban insurgents waged war against each other in the past 24 hours despite US officials saying there had been a breakthrough in recent days in peace talks to end the 18-year-old conflict.
“As result of a targeted air strike by Afghan air forces, Mawlavi Sardar Mohammad, a key member of the Taliban military commission was killed along with eight others,” the ministry said in a statement.
A senior US official said on Friday the United States and the Taliban have reached a truce agreement that will take effect very soon and could lead to withdrawals of American troops from Afghanistan.
The official said the agreement for a seven-day reduction in violence to be followed by the start of all-Afghan peace talks within 10 days is very specific and covers the entire country, including Afghan government forces. There were indications a formal announcement could come as early as the weekend.
The official, who was not authorised to publicly discuss the matter said the Taliban had committed to a halt in roadside and suicide bombings as well as rocket attacks. The official said the US would monitor the truce and determine if there were any violations.
Should the Taliban comply, the reduction in violence agreement would be followed by the signing of an agreement that would initiate peace negotiations that include all Afghan sides.
A Taliban official familiar with the deal said that the second agreement would be signed on Feb 29 and that the inter-Afghan dialogue would begin on March 10.
Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2020