Another round of US-Taliban peace talks starts in Qatar

August 23, 2019

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In this May 28, 2019 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, third from left, arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks. — AP/File
In this May 28, 2019 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, third from left, arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks. — AP/File

The United States and the Taliban officials resumed talks in Qatar on Thursday to firm up a deal enabling the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in return for the Taliban security guarantees, the Taliban and senior US official said.

After 18 years of war and months of direct talks with the Taliban leaders, the US appears to be at the cusp of reaching a deal that could allow a pullout of foreign forces followed by a ceasefire between the warring sides.

Two Taliban spokesmen said the ninth round of talks between the US and the Taliban representatives started on Thursday evening, and a senior US official privy to the peace negotiations said the “crucial meeting iron out smaller details had begun” in Qatar's capital city, Doha.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are now in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some US forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.

US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the US military role in Afghanistan has basically turned into a “ridiculous” police force in a sign that he is open to a US troop drawdown there after 18 years of war.

Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born US diplomat who has been leading the negotiations with the Taliban since last year is scheduled to travel to Kabul after his talks with the Taliban officials.

“Khalilzad will inform the top Afghan leaders about the peace deal and then finalise a declaration to end the war in Afghanistan,” the US official said on condition of anonymity.

The two sides have held discussions over a potential agreement on four key issues: a Taliban guarantee that it will not allow foreign militants to use Afghanistan as a launchpad to conduct attacks outside the country, the complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.

The Taliban now control more territory than at any point since the US bombed them out of power in 2001 for sheltering Al Qaeda, the group blamed for the Sept 11 attacks on the US. It has demanded a complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and has rejected holding direct talks with the Afghan government.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who is seeking reelection in September said on Thursday the Afghan government would be present in any potential peace negotiations with the Taliban as they move to another phase of the process.

Two American service members were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, bringing the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan to at least 14 in 2019.