KABUL -- The United States said late on Monday (July 13) that its landmark deal with the Taliban has entered the "next phase" while urging the militants to reduce rising violence to allow Afghan peace talks to begin.
The two sides signed an agreement in February that saw Washington pledge to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the middle of next year, in return for the insurgents promising to hold negotiations with the Afghan government to end the war.
Under phase one, the US said it would reduce troops to 8,600 within 135 days.
On the 135th day, US Special Representative on Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted that both sides had reached a "key milestone".
Keeping one's commitments
"The US has worked hard to carry out 1st phase of its commitments under the agreement, including to reduce troops & depart five bases," he said July 13.
As the deal entered its "next phase", Washington's approach will be based on certain conditions, Khalilzad warned.
"We will press for completion of prisoner releases, reduction of violence ... & start of & progress in intra-Afghan negotiations," he said.
Kabul pledged to free some 5,000 Taliban prisoners in a swap that would see the insurgents release about 1,000 captured Afghan security personnel.
The government has so far released more than 4,000 Taliban inmates, while the insurgents have freed more than 600 Afghan security personnel.
However, since the deal's signing, the Taliban have stepped up attacks across much of Afghanistan, killing hundreds of civilians.
Pointless Taliban violence
Khalilzad too condemned the violence, saying "large numbers" of Afghans continued to die without a reason.
"Violence has been high, especially in recent days and weeks," Khalilzad said, condemning a Taliban attack July 13 on a rural office of Afghanistan's intelligence agency that killed 11 security personnel.
"The Taliban's attack... contradicts their commitment to reduce violence until a permanent ceasefire is reached in intra-Afghan talks."
The Taliban in a statement Tuesday (July 14) welcomed the completion of phase one but complained of coalition support for Afghan security forces in operations against the group.
In the first six months of this year, a total of 1,213 civilians were killed and another 1,744 wounded in 880 incidents across the country, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said in a report July 14.
The figures showed a drop of 11% as compared to the first half of 2019, it said.
Taliban militants were responsible for the majority of attacks, according to the report.