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US and Taliban sign historic agreement

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader sign a peace agreement between Taliban and U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. The United States is poised to sign a peace agreement with Taliban militants on Saturday aimed at bringing an end to 18 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan and allowing U.S. troops to return home from America's longest war. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed)
U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader sign a peace agreement between Taliban and U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. The United States is poised to sign a peace agreement with Taliban militants on Saturday aimed at bringing an end to 18 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan and allowing U.S. troops to return home from America's longest war. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

CNN – After a week-long "reduction in violence," the US and Taliban signed a historic agreement Saturday which sets into motion the potential of a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and could pave the way to ending America's longest-fought war.

The agreement was signed in Doha, Qatar, by US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad -- the chief US negotiator in the talks with the Taliban -- and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- the Taliban's chief negotiator. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo witnessed the signing.

The "Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan" outlines a series of commitments from the US and the Taliban related to troop levels, counterterrorism, and the intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at bringing about "a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire."

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"This is a hopeful moment, but it's only the beginning," Pompeo said at a news conference in the Qatari capital Saturday. "There's a great deal of hard work ahead on the diplomatic front."

The Taliban "will start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides on March 10, 2020," according to the text of the agreement.

The agreement lays out a 14-month timetable for the withdrawal of "all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel."

An initial drawdown to 8,600 troops would occur within the first 135 days, according to the agreement. US officials have stressed that any downsizing of US troop presence would be "conditions based."

Speaking at the signing ceremony in Doha, Pompeo said the US "will closely watch the Taliban's compliance with their commitments, and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal to their actions."

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“This is how we will ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a base for international terrorists,” Pompeo said.