State Department: 'reduction in violence' with Taliban starts tonight, peace deal signing Feb. 29

An agreement between the United States and the Taliban could come as soon as February 29 in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement released Friday.  

According to Pompeo, the U.S. "reached an understanding with the Taliban" on a reduction of violence that could lead to the signing of a U.S.-Taliban agreement next week. The signing is dependent upon the "successful implementation" of the agreement,  Pompeo said.

Last week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the deal includes a seven-day "reduction in violence." A senior State Department official confirmed the reduction in violence period will start tonight Afghanistan time, and the signing will take place on the 29th in Doha between a Taliban representative and U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khlalilzad. 

"Intra-Afghan" negotiations would start "soon thereafter" to eventually lead to a ceasefire in Afghanistan, Pompeo said.  

"The only way to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan is for Afghans to come together and agree on the way forward," he said. 

Heroin trade in Afghanistan:Watchdog: Trump administration lacks strategy to fight Afghanistan's dangerous heroin trade

Molly Phee, the State Department’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, said Tuesday the seven-day period would be a "test period of the Taliban's intents and control of their forces" and a "proof of concept of their commitment to the peace." 

Phee explained the seven-day period will "set the stage" for the signing of the US-Taliban agreement, which could lead to "further reductions in violence, inter-Afghan negotiations, a political settlement, and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire"

Phee conceded there may be “spoilers who do not want this effort to succeed” and try to derail the agreement. 

Pompeo's announcement doesn't guarantee peace in Afghanistan. Previous negotiations with the Taliban have been scrapped after flareups in violence.

President Donald Trump said last November while visiting troops at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan that he restarted peace talks with the Taliban. 

USA TODAY investigation:Inside the U.S. military's raid against its own security guards that left dozens of Afghan children dead

There are about 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan whose mission is split between training Afghan security forces and conducting counterterrorism missions. The American military presence there dates to 2001 when U.S. troops helped topple the hardline Taliban government that had sheltered al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed there, and more than 20,000 wounded in the fighting. Last year, the Pentagon estimated the cost to taxpayers for the war there at $737 billion. 

Defense Secretary Esper:US has reached a deal with the Taliban to reduce deadly attacks

More:Bombs, missiles falling at record pace in long-running Afghanistan war

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said last week the "seven-day reduction in violence" had been negotiated, though the period had not yet begun. 

"We've said all along that the best, if not only, solution in Afghanistan is a political agreement," Esper said at the time. "Progress has been made on this front, and we'll have more to report on that soon, I hope." 

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook