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US-Taliban deal ‘close’: insurgent spokesman

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The US and the Taliban are "close" to reaching an agreement for a deal that would see the Pentagon slash its troop numbers in Afghanistan, a spokesman for the insurgents said Wednesday.

The two foes have been meeting in Doha in recent days to put the final touches on a historic deal that would see the Taliban make various security guarantees in return for a sharp reduction in the 13,000 or so American troops based in Afghanistan.

"Negotiations will continue today. We are close to an agreement. We hope to bring good news for our Muslim and freedom-seeking nation soon," Taliban spokesmen Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, attributing the statement to an earlier message that Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen had sent in Pashto.

The US embassy in Kabul did not immediately comment.

The apparent final phase of talks brings into view the end of an excruciating few months for Afghans who have watched on nervously and largely voiceless as America cuts a deal with the Taliban while sidelining the Kabul government.

After 18 years of war, the US wants to end its military involvement in Afghanistan and has been talking to the insurgents since at least 2018.

Most of the work was led by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has spent recent months shuttling between world capitals in a bid to build support for a deal with the Islamist hardliners known for their extreme interpretations of Sharia law.

On Tuesday in Doha, Shaheen told reporters a deal could be expected "as soon as the remaining points are finalised", as negotiators wrangled over individual words and phrases in a draft.

The agreement is expected to centre on the US withdrawing troops in exchange for the Taliban guaranteeing Afghanistan will not be used as a jihadist safe haven, talks with the Afghan government and an eventual ceasefire.

In the Afghan capital on Wednesday, Amnesty International called on the US and the Taliban to also consider human rights in any deal.

"Any peace agreement must not ignore (Afghans') voices, the voices of the victims, they must not ignore their calls for justice and accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations", Omar Waraich, Amnesty's deputy South Asia director, told reporters.

While the Taliban are notorious for numerous human rights abuses, violations have also been perpetrated by pro-government forces.


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