- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2020

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he is fully on board with the landmark peace agreement signed over the weekend between the United States and representatives for the Taliban, a bitter U.S. enemy for nearly 20 years.

At a Pentagon briefing on Monday, Gen. Milley noted he is a veteran of several combat tours in Afghanistan, including serving as commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC).

“A negotiated political settlement is the only responsible way to end the war in Afghanistan,” Gen. Milley said. “This was an important step. The best opportunity to end the war is now.”

The agreement signed with Taliban leaders is “conditions-based,” Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper said.

“We are watching the Taliban’s actions closely to assess whether they are upholding their commitments,” Mr. Esper said. “We’ll take this one day at a time. We’re at Day Two now.”

The U.S. will show good faith and soon begin drawing down their numbers in Afghanistan until it has 8,600 troops in country. At that point, the drawdown will temporarily stop until U.S. officials take stock of the situation there.

“Are all the parties living up to their obligations and commitments? Are they acting in good faith?” Mr. Esper said.

While Pentagon officials anticipate a reduced level of violence during the negotiations with the Taliban, they caution against having overly optimistic short term expectations.

“An absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan is probably not going to happen. It’s probably not going to go to zero,” Gen. Milley said.

President Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday that the U.S. plans to engage in more talks, and said he remains committed to a drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“We’re going to meet. We have discussions to go,” Mr. Trump said. “But we’ve made a lot of progress. We had good meetings with the Taliban.”

He said of the long-running war, “We’re getting out.”

“We want to get out. And we are going to be leaving, and we’re going to be bringing our soldiers back home,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ve been there for almost 20 years. It’s a long time. We’ve done a great job in terms of getting rid of terrorists. Now it’s up to other countries to get rid of those terrorists.”

Mr. Trump spoke on Sunday to President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan “to congratulate him on the recent important steps made toward achieving peace in Afghanistan,” the White House said.

“The two leaders agreed that Saturday’s announcement of the United States-Afghanistan Joint Declaration and the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan were important milestones for the Afghan peace process,” the statement said. “They further agreed to stay in touch as the peace process moves into the next phase, which involves negotiations among Afghans for a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and roadmap for the political future of the country.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

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