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U.S., Afghan Taliban Reach Deal 'In Principle'

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (center) meets with U.S. special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd left) in Kabul on September 2.

KABUL -- The Taliban has agreed "in principle" that any Afghan territory it controls in the future will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks against the United States and its allies, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has told RFE/RL.

Khalilzad told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview on September 2 that U.S. and Taliban negotiators had also agreed on the gradual "reduction and withdrawal" of Western forces from Afghanistan.

"That would depend on the situation on the ground," the envoy said in the telephone interview from Kabul.

"We have reached an agreement with the Taliban in principle," Khalilzad said, adding that the draft deal was nearing to bring "a total and permanent cease-fire" in Afghanistan.

However, he pointed out that the agreement, reached after several rounds of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Qatar, wasn't final until U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to it.

Khalilzad said he "will have more talks" with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and other high-ranking government officials to discuss the draft agreement.

Earlier on September 2, Afghan presidential adviser Waheed Omer tweeted that Khalilzad had met with Ghani and showed him a copy of the draft framework.

Presidential spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi told reporters in Kabul the government will need to "study and assess" details of the draft deal.

Khalilzad arrived in the Afghan capital on September 1 from Qatar, after declaring that the U.S. and Taliban negotiators were "at the threshold" of a deal following the ninth round of talks.

The envoy said Washington hoped that a final U.S.-Taliban agreement would pave the way for the "inter-Afghan dialogue, which is an historic and golden chance to end the 40-year-old war in Afghanistan."

Taliban Attack

While Khalilzad was still in Qatar, at least six people were killed after the Taliban launched an attack on the northeastern Afghan city of Puli Khumri on September 1.

Local authorities told RFE/RL that the Taliban "suffered a defeat" in Puli Khumri, but they added that sporadic fighting continued in the Kar-Kar and Bandi Du areas on the city's outskirts.

The attack on Puli Khumri, the capital of Baghlan Province, came a day after the Taliban briefly stormed the northern city of Kunduz before being pushed back by government troops.

The Interior Ministry said four civilians and two members of the security forces were killed while 20 civilians and two members of the security forces were wounded in the fighting in Puli Khumri. It said three Taliban fighters had also been killed.

However, the province's public-health director, Mohibullah Habib, told the dpa news agency that at least 45 people, including 14 members of the security forces, were wounded in the clashes.

The Associated Press quoted provincial-council member Mabobullah Ghafari as saying that he had seen the bodies of at least six members of the security forces.

Ghafari said that the Taliban had occupied some checkpoints with no resistance from security forces. Taliban fighters had taken shelter in some homes, he added. Some residents were trying to flee.

Khalilzad on August 31 tweeted that he had "raised the Kunduz attack in talks today, telling the Taliban that violence like this must stop."

On August 31, Afghan officials said Taliban militants attacked Kunduz from different directions, killing at least 15 people and wounding 75.

President Ghani's office said Afghan security forces had repelled the attack in some parts of the city, while other officials said that more than 30 militants had been killed.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a Twitter post called the attack "large-scale," while the police spokesman in Kunduz Province reportedly said the attack was "massive" and involved "intense" battles.

The Interior Ministry said at least 34 Taliban fighters were killed in ground and air operations in three areas of Kunduz city and that clearance operations were under way.

The ministry said on September 1 that at least 25 people, including 20 members of the Afghan security forces, had been killed and at least 85 others injured in the fighting.

It said the city was now fully cleared of Taliban presence.

The militant group has stepped its attacks in recent months in an apparent bid to strengthen its position in the negotiations with the United States.

"We are on the verge of ending the invasion and reaching a peaceful solution for Afghanistan," a Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said on Twitter on September 1.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on August 30 that the United States had good negotiations going on with the Taliban but had not yet reached a deal.

On August 29, Trump said that the United States will continue to maintain a force in Afghanistan even after a deal was agreed.

The Taliban has long demanded a complete pullout of all foreign forces from the country.

Tolo News quoted Khalilzad as saying on September 2 that under the deal the first 5,000 U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan in less than five months.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are now in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counterterrorism operations.​

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, Tolo News, and Reuters
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