Europe braces for domestic abuse ‘perfect storm’ amid coronavirus lockdown

By Sophie Davies and Emma Batha

BARCELONA/LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Domestic abuse charities in Europe have called for hotels and holiday lets to be turned into refuges as they warned that coronavirus lockdowns would lead to a massive jump in the numbers of women fleeing violence.

Governments, support services and charities are scrambling to help thousands of women facing weeks of isolation at home with a violent partner during quarantine measures.

“It’s a perfect storm,” Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of British charity SafeLives, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Lockdowns will lead to a surge in domestic abuse, but also severely limit the ability of services to help.”

Britain joined Italy, Spain, France and Belgium this week in ordering citizens to stay home to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 21,000 worldwide.

As the country shut down, charities urged employers, bank staff, healthworkers and neighbours to be extra vigilant, adding that even a note dropped in a grocery bag could be a lifeline for a woman trapped with an abusive partner.

In Spain, local authorities in the Canary Islands have set up an initiative that enables victims of domestic abuse to go to their pharmacy and request a ‘Mask 19’, a code word that will alert the pharmacist to contact the authorities.

Gender experts say rates of domestic and sexual violence rise when societies are under stress, during natural disasters, food shortages and epidemics – or even when a local football team loses a match.

In China, where the virus first emerged, anecdotal evidence suggests reports of domestic abuse doubled or trebled during its lockdown which began in January. A hashtag translating as #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic also went viral.

‘MASSIVE INFLUX’

Countries in Europe said it was too early to say whether cases had gone up.

But domestic abuse survivor Rachel Williams, who is running online support groups in Britain during the crisis, said she had heard of a 30% increase in some countries in lockdown.

“We are going to see a massive influx here, without a shadow of a doubt. The government must look at using hotels, bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs to keep women safe,” she added.

Williams, who was shot by her estranged husband after leaving him following years of abuse, said there were just 4,000 refuge spaces across the country, which saw 19,000 referrals last year.

In Italy – in lockdown since March 9 – refuges and support centres say they are struggling to operate and often lack masks and hand sanitiser for staff.

Coronavirus has killed more than 7,500 people in Italy, by far the worst affected country.

D.i.RE, a network of 80 centres, has asked the government to free up facilities for new domestic abuse cases to prevent them potentially introducing coronavirus into existing refuges.

One centre in the northern Emilia Romagna region is converting a former convent for use. Another in Padua is using holiday lettings site Booking.com to find apartments for women.

Some services in Italy are asking women to provide a negative COVID-19 test in order to access shelters, but tests are not widely available to people without symptoms.

CODED MESSAGES

In France, which went into lockdown last week, Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa has warned that quarantine will be a “breeding ground for violence” with emergency shelter provision a major concern.

France’s national domestic abuse hotline has seen a rise in calls this week, but helplines and charities elsewhere said calls had fallen as it became harder for women to reach out.

“We’re having trouble talking to women by phone as their abusers are on the prowl 24 hours a day,” said abuse survivor Ana Bella Estevez, who runs a support organisation in Seville in southern Spain.

Estevez, who fled her abusive marriage after her husband tried to kill her, said her charity would normally call women when their partners were at work, but was increasingly turning to text-based technology including WhatsApp.

The Spanish government has said it will shortly launch a chat service with geolocation technology enabling victims to contact the police, and another providing psychological support during isolation.

Madrid, Valencia and Andalusia are meanwhile looking to adopt the ‘Mask 19′ initiative, according to media reports.

In Britain, SafeLives said bank staff as well as health workers should watch out for coded messages abuse victims may give out when contacting them.

With many people having lost jobs or income during the crisis, Lloyds Bank – one of Britain’s biggest banks – has sought the charity’s advice on how to spot vulnerable customers.

As people set up new methods of home-working, SafeLives’ CEO Jacob said employers should also think about what their employees’ homelife is like and keep regular contact.

For someone living with a controlling partner a chat with the boss may be one of the few ways they can keep in touch with the outside world.

Jacob also warned that job losses would not only heighten women’s vulnerability to abuse, but could leave them stuck in dangerous relationships long after the crisis is over.

“It’s vital to protect people’s employment and income now to make sure they don’t end up trapped in abusive situations when we get through the other side of this,” she said.

Abuse survivor Williams, who has written about her experiences in a book called “The Devil at Home”, also urged the public to reach out if worried about a neighbour.

“Ask if they need any shopping. That could allow them to write something on their shopping list. Or, if it’s safe to do so, drop a note in the bag when you hand over the shopping,” she said.

“Don’t be a bystander. More so than ever before, domestic abuse is everybody’s business.”

(Additional reporting by Elena Berton in Paris. Writing by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Seven dead as coronavirus measures trigger prison riots across Italy

By Angelo Amante and Stephen Jewkes

ROME (Reuters) – Seven prisoners have died as riots spread through crowded jails across Italy over measures imposed to contain the coronavirus.

Inmates, many angered by restrictions on family visits, went on the rampage and started fires from Sunday into Monday, authorities said. In one prison, inmates took guards hostage and in another some escaped.

By Monday afternoon, violence that started at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy had spread south, hitting more than 25 penitentiaries nationwide.

Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede said the government was open to discussing prison conditions but the rebellions had to stop.

In a sign of the political pressures piling onto his coalition government, the leader of the far-right opposition League, Matteo Salvini, called for an “iron fist” response.

Italy – the worst-hit country in Europe – has reported 463 deaths linked to the virus.

The biggest rebellion began on Sunday in a prison in the northern town of Modena.

Three prisoners died there, and another four in prisons where they were moved after the violence started, a prison administration official at the justice ministry, said.

Some died from overdoses of drugs they had stolen from prison clinics, a justice ministry source said, without giving details on what had caused the other fatalities.

Police and fire trucks massed outside the prison as black smoke swirled into the sky on Sunday. A justice ministry spokesman said the situation there was under control by Monday, and officials were assessing the damage.

Two guards were taken hostage in a prison in the northern town of Pavia on Sunday night, and then freed in a police raid hours later, the prison police group UILPA said.

Inmates revolted in Milan’s San Vittore prison, taking to the roof and unfurling a banner demanding a general pardon.

Further south, prisoners in the Tuscan city of Prato set fire to mattresses.

On Sicily, inmates rebelled at Palermo’s Ucciardone prison, which houses some Mafia convicts, but guards managed to regain control, officials said.

Italian media said about 50 inmates managed to escape from a jail in the southern city Foggia. The majority were rapidly captured, but by nightfall nine prisoners were still missing.

Italy’s prisons are among the most over-crowded in Europe. “The spread of the virus is a real concern,” said Andrea Oleandri of the Italian prison rights group Antigone.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante in Rome and Stephen Jewkes in Bologna, writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Crispian Balmer)

Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

By Aftab Ahmed

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – At least 32 people have been killed in the deadliest violence to engulf India’s capital New Delhi for decades as a heavy deployment of security forces brought an uneasy calm on Thursday, a police official said.

The violence began over a disputed new citizenship law on Monday but led to clashes between Muslims and Hindus in which hundreds were injured. Many suffered gunshot wounds, while arson, looting and stone-throwing has also taken place.

“The death count is now at 32,” Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal said, adding the “entire area is peaceful now.”

Men remove debris in a riot affected area following clashes between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

At the heart of the unrest is a citizenship law which makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the new law adopted last December is of “great concern” and she was worried by reports of police inaction in the face of assaults against Muslims by other groups.

“I appeal to all political leaders to prevent violence,” Bachelet said in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has denied having any prejudice against India’s 180 million Muslims, saying that law is required to help persecuted minorities.

New Delhi has been the epicenter for protests against the new law, with students and large sections of the Muslim community leading the protests.

As the wounded were brought to hospitals on Thursday, the focus shifted on the overnight transfer of Justice S. Muralidhar, a Delhi High Court judge who was hearing a petition into the riots and had criticized government and police inaction on Wednesday.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the transfer was routine and had been recommended by the Supreme Court collegium earlier this month.

Opposition Congress party leader Manish Tiwari said every lawyer and judge in India should strongly protest what he called a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said inflammatory speeches at the protests over the new citizenship law in the last few months and the tacit support of some opposition leaders was behind the violence.

“The investigation is on,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who romped to re-election last May, also withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in August with the objective of tightening New Delhi’s grip on the restive region, which is also claimed by full by Pakistan.

For months the government imposed severe restrictions in Kashmir including cutting telephone and internet lines, while keeping hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders, in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests. Some restrictions have since been eased.

Bachelet said the Indian government continued to impose excessive restrictions on the use of social media in the region, even though some political leaders have been released, and ordinary life may be returning to normal in some respects.

(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Gunman kills five co-workers and himself in Molson Coors brewery shooting in Milwaukee

By Brendan O’Brien

Milwaukee (Reuters) – A gunman opened fire at the Molson Coors Beverage Co brewing complex in Milwaukee on Wednesday, killing five co-workers before he was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, the city’s police chief said.

No one else was injured in the violence at the sprawling campus of more than 20 buildings, where some 1,400 workers are employed by the beer company in Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said.

The entire Molson Coors property was placed under a security lockdown for several hours following the gunfire as police swept each building to rule out any further threats or victims.

“We can now say that the scene is secure. All employees who were on scene have been allowed to go home,” Morales told reporters at a late-night news conference several hours after the afternoon shooting.

Morales said the bloodshed was confined to the Molson Coors <TAP.N> complex west of downtown – a facility known to locals as the old Miller brewery – and that “no members of the general public were involved.”

Miller beer is one of the company’s leading brands, and Mayor Tom Barrett said the plant has been part of the city for 165 years.

Morales said the body of the dead gunman, who was believed to have acted alone, was found in the same building as his five victims.

The suspect was described by police as a 51-year-old Milwaukee resident and employee of Molson Coors. Details about the circumstances of the shooting, including what may have precipitated the carnage, were not provided by authorities.

“We are a family here at Molson Coors in Milwaukee, and this is an unthinkable tragedy for us,” company President and Chief Executive Officer Gavin Hattersley told reporters.

President Donald Trump, acknowledging the shooting hours earlier as he opened a White House news conference about the coronavirus outbreak, referred to the gunman as a “wicked murderer” and called the gun violence “a terrible thing.”

“Our hearts go out to the people of Wisconsin and to the families,” he said.

PRAYERS, CONDOLENCES, SOMBER TOASTS

At a news conference earlier in the evening, the mayor branded the shooting “an unspeakable tragedy.”

“There were five individuals who went to work today just like everybody goes to work. They thought they were going to work and return to their families. They didn’t, and tragically they never will.”

In the immediate aftermath of the bloodshed, the company advised employees in an email that the gunman had been located in or near a second-floor stairwell near a packaging facility, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Hours later at Spitfires on State, a tavern a few blocks from the shooting scene, patrons made solemn toasts to Miller, an iconic Milwaukee brand. A small group of employees, still wearing their protective gear from their shift earlier in the day at the brewery, huddled together inside the bar.

“Prayers and condolences,” one female employee said as she left the bar after hugging two co-workers.

The Milwaukee shooting seemed likely to reignite a contentious debate about gun control in the midst of the U.S. presidential election.

The campaign of Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, was set to host a roundtable discussion about gun violence at an event in Los Angeles on Thursday.

A campaign spokeswoman said the event, which Bloomberg was not planning to attend, was previously scheduled, but added, “recent events will likely be discussed.”

Last year saw 417 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive, the highest annual number since the nonprofit research group started keeping a tally in 2013. GVA defines a mass shooting as any in which at least four people, excluding the perpetrator, are shot.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Leslie Adler, Cynthia Osterman, Peter Cooney and Lincoln Feast.)

U.N. decries nearly 50% increase in killings of women activists in Colombia

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Killings of women engaged in community organizing and defending human rights in Colombia increased nearly 50% in 2019 compared to the year before, the United Nations said on Wednesday as it urged the government to redouble protection efforts.

Violence against so-called “social leaders” has become a top issue for the government of President Ivan Duque, who has faced frequent criticism from the international community, non-governmental organizations and human rights activists for not doing enough to stop the killings.

Last year, 108 human rights defenders of all genders were killed, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told journalists, while a further 10 cases were still being verified.

Fifteen of the activists murdered were women.

“We are alarmed that in 2019 the killings of women human rights defenders increased close to 50%,” said Alberto Brunori, the U.N.’s human rights chief in Colombia.

“The quick and effective implementation of a comprehensive program of guarantees for women leaders and women human rights defenders could be an important tool for prevention and protection against murders and attacks,” he added.

The number of activist killings has fallen overall since Duque took office in August 2018, the center-right president told journalists at a breakfast event on Wednesday.

“There is a reduction, but the figure should be zero,” said Duque. He blamed the killings on Marxist-led National Liberation Army rebels, dissidents from the FARC rebel movement who reject a 2016 peace deal, and criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining.

There were 36 massacres – defined as the killing of more than four people – in Colombia last year, the highest figure in the last five years, the U.N. rights office said.

Fifteen people died in police or army operations involving presumed arbitrary detentions, the U.N. added.

A total of 115 activists were killed in Colombia in 2018.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Tom Brown)

India’s Modi appeals for calm as riot toll rises to 20

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm on Wednesday after days of clashes between Hindus and minority Muslims over a controversial citizenship law in some of the worst sectarian violence in the capital in decades.

Twenty people were killed and nearly 200 wounded in the violence, a doctor said, with many suffering gunshot wounds amid looting and arson attacks that coincided with a visit to India by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets in far greater numbers on Wednesday. Parts of the riot-hit areas were deserted.

“Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times,” Modi said in a tweet.

Modi’s appeal came after a storm of criticism from opposition parties of the government’s failure to control the violence, despite the use of tear gas, pellets and smoke grenades.

Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, called for the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah, who is directly responsible for law and order in the capital.

The violence erupted between thousands demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law introduced by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

The Citizenship Amendment Act makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has denied it has any bias against India’s more than 180 million Muslims.

A firefighter walks past damaged shops at a tyre market after they were set on fire by a mob in a riot affected area after clashes erupted between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Reuters witnesses saw mobs wielding sticks and pipes walking down streets in parts of northeast Delhi on Tuesday, amid arson attacks and looting. Thick clouds of black smoke billowed from a tyre market that was set ablaze.

Many of the wounded had suffered gunshot injuries, hospital officials said. At least two mosques in northeast Delhi were set on fire.

On Wednesday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a tweet that it was alarmed by the violence and it urged the Indian government “to rein in mobs and protect religious minorities and others who have been targeted”.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar; Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed, Danish Siddiqui and Zeba Siddiqui; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

Israel-Gaza ceasefire takes hold after two-day flare-up

GAZA (Reuters) – A ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the United Nations took hold on the Israel-Gaza border on Tuesday after two days of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.

Islamic Jihad had fired 80 rockets towards Israeli communities along the Gaza border since Sunday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said, while Israel attacked sites in Gaza and Syria that killed three members of the militant group.

No casualties were reported on the Israeli side of the frontier and many of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile system.

The violence came a week before an Israeli election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term in office after two inconclusive votes.

A Palestinian militant walks as he surveys an Islamic Jihad site that was targeted in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip February 25, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

The frontier fell quiet early on Tuesday, after a Palestinian official said Israel and Islamic Jihad had reached a “reciprocal and simultaneous ceasefire” mediated by Egypt and the United Nations.

“This round is over and Palestinian resistance promised its people that every act of aggression by the Zionist occupation would be met by a reaction from the resistance,” Khader Habib, a senior Islamic Jihad official, told Reuters.

The Israeli military said it reopened roads near the Gaza border on Tuesday that it had closed when the fighting began and that train services would resume in the area.

But citing security concerns, the military kept Israel’s border crossings with Gaza closed, except for humanitarian cases, and banned Palestinian fisherman from heading to sea.

The violence erupted on Sunday when Israeli troops killed an Islamic Jihad member who the military said was trying to plant explosives near Israel’s border fence with the Gaza Strip.

Video widely shared on social media showed what appeared to be a lifeless body of the militant dangling from an Israeli military bulldozer as it removed the corpse.

The images created an uproar in Gaza, prompting calls for retaliation that were followed by rockets launched by Islamic Jihad.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

After clashes, Ukraine blames disinformation campaign for spreading coronavirus panic

By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk on Friday blamed an “information war” being waged on the country for spreading panic and mistrust over the coronavirus, a day after the arrival of evacuees from China sparked clashes outside a sanatorium.

Speaking to parliament, Honcharuk said misinformation was being spread from within and outside Ukraine but did not elaborate.

The authorities are trying to find the source of bogus emails sent this week on behalf of the health ministry erroneously declaring there had been confirmed coronavirus cases in Ukraine, when so far there have been none.

In another example, Honcharuk cited an incident of Russian officials asking a wagon-load of passengers traveling on a train from Kiev to Moscow to disembark after a Chinese woman with fever was found to be traveling on board.

The Ukrainian railway service said it has asked Russia for more information on the case.

Police detained 24 people in clashes with residents of a town in central Ukraine on Thursday, who feared they would be infected by Ukrainians who had been evacuated from China’s Hubei province to a sanatorium for a mandatory two week quarantine.

“The events that took place yesterday, in my opinion, are a consequence of, in particular, the information war that continues against our country, both from inside and out,” Honcharuk said.

Protesters in the town of Novi Sanzhary had clashed with police, burned tires and hurled projectiles at a convoy of buses carrying the evacuees to the medical facility.

The authorities had appealed for calm, saying the evacuees were screened to make sure they were not infected before being allowed to fly. Health Minister Zoriana Skaletska announced she would join those in quarantine.

“Our health minister has agreed to stay with the citizens in this medical institution,” Honcharuk said. “This way her example will prove that there is no danger to Ukrainian citizens.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the protests had been stoked by “political support” but did not say from where. He appealed to Ukrainians not to vilify those returning from China.

“We constantly say that Ukraine is (a part of) Europe,” he said. “Yesterday, frankly, in some episodes it seemed that we are the Europe of the Middle Ages, unfortunately. Let’s not forget that we are all people.”

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Ros Russell)

No let up in Taliban attacks, fresh orders awaited over deal with U.S.

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Jibran Ahmad

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban fighters attacked Afghan government forces overnight, and militant commanders said on Monday insurgency operations would go-ahead until they receive fresh instructions based on a deal with the United States to reduce violence in the country.

Last week, a senior U.S. administration official said negotiations with Taliban representatives in Qatar had resulted in and agreement in principle for a week-long reduction of violence, but the seven-day period had not commenced. The official said the agreement covered all Afghan forces, and would be closely monitored.

“Our leadership hasn’t conveyed any message about a ceasefire to us,” a Taliban commander in Helmand, a southern province that has seen some of the fiercest fighting.

Commanders in Paktika and Nangarhar – two other provinces regarded as strongholds for the Taliban – also said they would continue their attacks as planned.

On Sunday night, Taliban fighters attacked Afghan government forces manning a checkpoint in the northern province of Kunduz. According to a statement by Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, they killed 19 security personnel.

The Afghan defense ministry confirmed the attack in a statement but put the death toll at five. It also said retaliatory air strikes were conducted against the militants.

A Taliban spokesman also issued a statement on Monday saying a Afghan military helicopter had been shot down in Nimroz province, but an official there said the helicopter made an emergency landing and had not been attacked.

Despite the violence on the ground, a senior Taliban leader in Doha confirmed a deal with the United States is set to be signed by the end of February in a “signing ceremony” in Doha.

Leaders of the United Nations, European Union and Islamic nations and neighboring countries would be invited to the attend, Mawlavi Abdul Salam Hanafi, deputy chief of the Taliban’s Doha office, was quoted as saying by Nunn Asia – a pro-Taliban website with strong links to the group’s leadership.

“Soon after signing the peace accord, the United States will release 5,000 of our prisoners and we will free 1,000 of theirs,” Hanafi said.

Successful implementation of the deal would move the United States closer to a further drawdown of troop levels in Afghanistan, meeting an objective for U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to stop the “endless wars” as he seeks re-election in November.

There remains a long way to go to a peace settlement and end to the nearly two-decade-old U.S. military presence that began shortly after the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda. U.S. officials have been clear that the 13,000 U.S. troops will be cut to about 8,600 this year, with or without a withdrawal deal.

(Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Additional Reporting by Sardar Razmal in Kunduz, Afghanistan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

U.S., Taliban have negotiated proposal for seven-day reduction in violence: Pentagon chief

(Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday that the United States and the Taliban had negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence.

Sources had told Reuters that a U.S.-Taliban peace deal could be signed this month if the Taliban significantly reduces violence, which could lead to an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“The United States and the Taliban have negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence,” Esper told reporters during a news conference in Brussels at NATO headquarters.

“I’m here today consulting with allies about this proposal, and we’ve had a series of productive bilateral and collective meetings about the path forward,” he added.

The tentative timeline shared with Reuters by sources came a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said there had been a possible breakthrough in U.S.-Taliban talks in Qatar.

The talks had been deadlocked in part over a U.S. demand that the insurgents agree to sharply reduce violence as part of any American troop withdrawal accord.

There are about 13,000 U.S. troops as well as thousands of other NATO personnel in Afghanistan, 18 years after a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

“It will be a continual evaluative process as we go forward – if we go forward,” Esper added.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Catherine Evans and Jonathan Oatis)