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The US and Taliban have reached a reduction of violence agreement
MUNICH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has reached agreement with the Taliban on a weeklong reduction of violence that could lead to U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a senior administration official said on Friday, while cautioning that Taliban needed to honor commitments for the accord to stick.
The announcement followed protracted negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha between the United States and the Taliban and a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the Munich Security Conference.
A deeper agreement paving the way for a major U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a political boost for U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly promised to stop "endless wars" as he seeks re-election in November.
"It was violence that derailed the signing of the agreement in September. Now we have an agreement on the reduction of violence. And, should the Talibs implement what they've committed to doing, we will move forward with the agreement," the senior administration official told reporters in Munich.
He added that the agreement was very specific and covered all Afghan forces, saying the U.S. military would be monitoring violence levels to verify whether or not the Taliban was honoring it.
"And our commitment, in terms of reduction of forces which is both conditions based and in phases is very much tied to delivery on the commitments that they have made, and will be," the official said.
There are about 13,000 U.S. troops as well as thousands of other NATO personnel in Afghanistan, 18 years after a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
The United States is aiming to cut troop numbers to about 9,000, a Western diplomat told Reuters earlier this week.
Doha has been the venue for talks between the warring sides since 2018 even as fighting has continued across the country, killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers as the Taliban have expanded their territorial control.
Last month the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. government agency, assessed that there had been a record-high number of attacks by the Taliban and other anti-government forces in the last three months of 2019.
The Taliban stages near-daily attacks and though they are negotiating with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the armed group refuses to talk directly to Ghani's government, calling it a "puppet" of the West.
Once the reduction of violence holds within the seven-day period, the talks would then expand into the next phase, dubbed the inter-Afghan dialogue, involving all parties.
"We'd like to see the Afghan government select a delegation that could go to negotiations. It should be an inclusive delegation that by the government. And then ceasefire comprehensive and permanent ceasefire that ends the Afghan war which will be the one of the first topics of the of the negotiations," the official said.
He added, while the seven-day clock had not yet begun, he hoped it would "very soon."
Though the Army has yet to actually set an official recruiting goal for this year, leaders are confident they're going to bring in more soldiers than last year.
Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, told reporters on Wednesday that the Army was currently 2,226 contracts ahead of where it was in 2019.
"I will just tell you that this time last year we were in the red, and now we're in the green which is — the momentum's there and we see it continuing throughout the end of the year," Muth said, adding that the service hit recruiting numbers in February that haven't been hit during that month since 2014.
KABUL/WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement on Feb. 29 at the end of a week long period of violence reduction in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban said on Friday.
Active-duty service members, Reservists and National Guard members often serve side-by-side performing highly skilled and dangerous jobs, such as parachuting, explosives demolition and flight deck operations.
Reservists and Guard members are required to undergo the same training as specialized active-duty troops, and they face the same risks. Yet the extra incentive pay they receive for their work — called hazardous duty incentive pay — is merely a fraction of what their active-duty counterparts receive for performing the same job.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-3 of Moorestown, are partnering on legislation to correct the inequity. Known as the Guard and Reserve Hazard Duty Pay Equity Act, the bill seeks to standardize payment of hazardous duty incentive pay for all members of the armed services, including Reserve and National Guard components.
Another Marine was hit with jail time and a bad-conduct discharge in connection with a slew of arrests made last summer over suspicions that members of a California-based infantry battalion were transporting people who'd crossed into the U.S. illegally.
Some Fort Bragg paratroopers who left for the Middle East on a no-notice deployment last month came home Thursday.
About 3,500 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team were sent to Kuwait beginning Jan. 1 as tensions were rising in the region. The first soldiers were in the air within 18 hours of being told to go.