US links Afghan talks to ‘significant’ drop in Taliban attacks

Updated January 23, 2020

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Washington has for weeks been calling for the violence to be reined in, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave Afghanistan in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight. — Reuters/File
Washington has for weeks been calling for the violence to be reined in, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave Afghanistan in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight. — Reuters/File

DAVOS/KABUL: US President Donald Trump told Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday he wants to see a “significant” drop in violence by Taliban guerrillas before “meaningful” negotiations can happen.

At the meeting of the two presidents in Davos, Switzerland, “President Trump reiterated the need for a significant and lasting reduction in violence by the Taliban that would facilitate meaningful negotiations on Afghanistan’s future”, the White House said.

Washington has for weeks been calling for the violence to be reined in, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave Afghanistan in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.

Insurgent sources said last week they had offered to initiate a brief ceasefire of seven to 18 days, but there was no announcement of the proposal by either party.

The Taliban are aiming to reach a withdrawal agreement with the US by the end of January and are prepared to “scale down” military operations ahead of signing a deal, their chief spokesman said this week.

The two sides had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when Trump abruptly declared the process “dead”, citing Taliban violence.

Talks were later restarted in December in Qatar, but paused again following an attack near the US-run Bagram military base in Afghanistan.

Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two pillars — a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to jihadists. It would ultimately have to win final approval from Trump.

US air strike killed 10 in Herat

A drone attack carried out by US forces earlier this month in western Afghanistan that apparently targeted a splinter Taliban group also killed at least 10 civilians, including three women and three children, an Afghan rights official and a council member said on Wednesday.

According to the Afghan official, who is on the country’s Human Rights Commission, the strike took place in western Herat province, in the district of Shindanad. Five other civilians, including two children, were wounded, he said.

There was no immediate comment from the Afghan military or the US forces. But Wakil Ahmad Karokhi, a provincial council member in Herat, said the Jan 8 strike also killed the commander of a Taliban splinter group, known as Mullah Nangyalia, along with 15 other militants.

The commanders funeral the following day was held in the Herat provincial capital’s Guzargah neighbourhood, and was attended by dozens of militants.

Karokhi criticised the strike as huge mistake saying the commander had been a useful buffer against the Taliban in Shindand district, taking up arms with his fighters against the insurgents when no one else would do it” and leaving the area’s civilians in peace.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2020