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World

Taliban Attacks Could Resume

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

U.S. and Taliban officials announced a major peace deal on Saturday, but today that agreement already seems to be in jeopardy. A Taliban spokesman said today that the group could resume attacks on targets in Afghanistan immediately.

And joining us with the latest is NPR international correspondent Diaa Hadid, who is following all of this from Islamabad. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hey, there.

GREENE: So wow, you were just on our program a few hours ago talking about this peace deal potentially taking effect. It sounds like this is - a lot of this has changed just in a matter of hours here. What's going on?

HADID: So what's going on - in fact, I'm looking at my phone and I'm WhatsApp-ing (ph) a senior Taliban official - is that they've announced that they will be resuming attacks against Afghan national forces. Now, this official was clear that those attacks wouldn't take place against foreign forces, NATO or American troops, because, as he said, they'd signed a deal with them on Saturday. And they wanted to abide by that deal.

And so what it appears is going on is that, first of all, the Taliban are testing the parameters of this deal to see what's acceptable and what's not acceptable. And the second part of it is that we have to see this violence in the context of negotiations that are going to happen between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation, most likely led by the Afghan government. Each side is trying to maneuver to get the best possible outcome for their own side.

GREENE: Well - and this raises one of the big sticking points with this whole deal - that it was made between the Taliban and the United States without the Afghan government involved. So can you just step back and give us the context for all of this and, you know, which might help us understand why this is breaking down.

HADID: Right. Take a breath.

GREENE: Yeah.

HADID: So there was a seven-day partial cease-fire in the lead-up to this deal that had been negotiated for over a year between the Taliban and the United States. And that deal basically calls for the withdrawal of most American and NATO forces within 14 months from the country. In exchange, the Taliban will not host or harbor militants seeking to attack the United States or its allies.

Another part of that deal, though, calls for peace negotiations between the Taliban and Afghans to settle a conflict that's lasted in that country for more than 40 years. And as a part of that deal, the Americans had offered to facilitate a prisoner exchange that would see thousands of Taliban insurgents released from Afghan lockups in exchange for Afghan security forces being held by the insurgents. And that was meant to be a goodwill measure.

Now, the Afghan government isn't a party to the deal that was signed, but now they've been looped into it. And so the Afghan government's been saying, well, no. They've been speaking to us on background - and saying, why would we release 5,000 Taliban insurgents with no guarantees of what they'll do in the future, when that's our strongest negotiating card to get them to accept the Afghanistan that exists today? And at the same time, the Taliban, when we're speaking to them, they understand that not attacking a - like, holding to a cease-fire is one of their strongest cards that they can maneuver in a future deal.

GREENE: Oh, I see. So...

HADID: Yeah...

GREENE: ...Neither side wants to lose their leverage, which could mean that the...

HADID: Basically, each side, yeah, they're just flinging out their elbows right now.

GREENE: Huh. Well, I mean, you had President Trump sort of, you know, saying what a big deal this deal was for his administration. What are American officials saying now in response to this announcement?

HADID: So the first thing that we have seen is from General Scott Miller, who's the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan. And he said that the U.S. has been clear about their expectations - violence must remain low. We understood from a Qatari official, where the deal was signed, that the acceptable threshold for violence has now been lowered. But there's no clarity on really what that means. And for dead or wounded people, does that even matter?

GREENE: NPR international correspondent Diaa Hadid following all of this from Islamabad. Diaa, thank you so much.

HADID: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.