U.S.-Taliban sign landmark agreement in bid to end America's longest war

Image: QATAR-US-AFGHANISTAN-DIPLOMACY-CONFLICT-TALIBAN
Members of the Taliban delegation gather ahead of the signing ceremony with the United States in the Qatari capital Doha on Saturday. Copyright GIUSEPPE CACACE
By Saphora Smith and Mushtaq Yusufzai and Dan De Luce with NBC News World News
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On Saturday, more than 18 years after it was triggered by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. made a bid to end America's longest war.

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DOHA, Qatar — The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan started nearly 7,000 miles away on a sunny September morning that saw hijacked planes slam into the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, more than 18 years after it was triggered by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. made a bid to end America's longest war.

Hundreds of miles from the battlefields of Afghanistan in a glitzy banquet hall in a five-star hotel in Qatar, the United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement that paves the way for U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from the desperately poor and war-torn Central Asian country.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban's chief negotiator and one of its founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, signed the agreement in Doha after more than a year of on-off formal talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also attended the ceremony, but did not sign the agreement.

The deadliest terror attack on American soil, which killed nearly 3,000 people, prompted President George W. Bush to send the first of many waves of U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a country most Americans could not then spot on a map, in October 2001.

Their mission was to topple the Taliban regime after it sheltered Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. While the invasion sw­­iftly overthrew the militants, it also embroiled America in a deadly quagmire that has cost the lives of around 2,300 U.S. troops and wounded thousands of others.

After 18 years, there are currently between 12,000 to 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, who advise Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly railed against America's "endless wars" abroad and Saturday's deal will give him a talking point in his bid for re-election.

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