SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Eighteen years ago, the United States led a NATO force into Afghanistan to topple the rule of the Taliban. It came after the insurgent group refused to expel al-Qaida leaders that they were harboring in that country. Today, the United States and Taliban officials signed a deal that seeks to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Qatar, where the signing took place.
Diaa, thanks so much for being with us.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Thank you.
SIMON: Who signed, and what's in the deal?
HADID: Right. So U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad signed the deal alongside Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was leading the Taliban delegation. It wasn't a long agreement. It's about four pages long. And as they signed it, dozens of Taliban members who were watching the ceremony shouted Allahu akbar or God is great. Now, what the deal entails is that all forces, American and NATO troops, should be leaving within the next 14 months. In the immediate future, they expect to have a drawdown of American forces. About 4,000 will withdraw, leaving 8,600 in the country. And that's expected to happen within the first 135 days. The NATO forces are expected to mirror that.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government will release about 5,000 Taliban prisoners they are holding in exchange for about a thousand Afghan security forces who are being held by the Taliban. That's meant to be as a goodwill gesture. And the in the deal, the United States will review its sanctions on Taliban members and says it will lift them by late August. And when negotiations begin between Afghans, they'll work with the United Nations Security Council to try to lift global sanctions.
Now, all this is (unintelligible) on a fairly simple premise, that the Taliban will not allow militant groups or terrorists to use Afghan soil to threaten the United States or its allies. So basically, after 18 years and tens of thousands of people being killed, including thousands of American forces, this deal does what the Americans had asked the Taliban to do 19 years ago.
SIMON: Is it feasible to have all U.S. troops out in 14 months?
HADID: We have - they - the United States officials, apparently they say so. And again, they condition this on the Taliban - agreeing to this condition of not allowing militants to their soil, to threaten the security of the United States or its allies. And that, you know - the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, when he was speaking, he had this to say...
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MIKE POMPEO: We will closely watch the Taliban's compliance with their commitments and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal to their actions. This is how we will ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a base for international terrorists.
HADID: And he also urged the Taliban to remember that the Afghanistan that exists today isn't the Afghanistan of 20 years ago. And he asked them to embrace the progress that had been achieved by women, in particular.
SIMON: And there's a political track, isn't there?
HADID: Yeah, and this is the key part because this is the part - will seek to end 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan. So the United States are committing to help facilitate this prisoner swap between Afghans and the Taliban, but then - Afghan negotiations eventually begin. They're expected around early March. They'll most likely take place in Oslo, although that hasn't been decided yet. And it will be between the Taliban and a delegation led by the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani. But we're still waiting to hear who'll be on their team.
And that's when all the tricky details will come into play, whether the Taliban will agree to a democratic system and whether the government will agree to Taliban demands that we can - that we've been hearing so far that the country be governed by an even harsher version of Islamic law than the one that already exists in the country.
SIMON: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Qatar. Thanks so much for being with us.
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