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Agencies
December 8, 2019

US-Taliban talks resume in Qatar

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A
Agencies
December 8, 2019

DOHA: US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held on Saturday the first official talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban since President Donald Trump declared a near-certain peace deal with the insurgents dead in September.

The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence, with a permanent cease-fire being the eventual goal, said a US statement. Khalilzad is also trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict.

The meetings being held in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, follow several days of talks in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, where Khalilzad met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with Ghani, calling him a US puppet. Ghani leads the Afghan government with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in a power-sharing agreement brokered by the United States after the presidential elections in 2014 were so deeply mired in corruption that a clear winner could not be determined.

While Khalilzad is talking to the Taliban about reducing violence, the US military in its daily report said overnight on Saturday US airstrikes killed 37 Taliban and operations by the Afghan National Security Forces killed another 22 of the militants.

Trump has expressed frustration with America's longest war repeatedly saying he wants to bring the estimated 12,000 US soldiers home and calling on Afghanistan's own police and military to step up. The Afghan government has also been criticised for its relentless corruption.

In September, the United States and the Taliban had appeared on the verge of signing a deal that would have seen Washington begin withdrawing thousands of troops in return for security guarantees. It was also expected to pave the way towards direct talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul and, ultimately, a possible peace agreement after more than 18 years of war.

But that same month, Trump abruptly called the year-long effort "dead" and withdrew an invitation to the insurgents to join secret talks at his US retreat at Camp David after the killing of an American soldier. "The US rejoined talks today in Doha.

The focus of discussion will be reduction of violence that leads to intra-Afghan negotiations and a ceasefire," said the US source briefed on efforts to end almost two decades of war in Afghanistan.

The Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, confirmed the talks on his Twitter account, saying they had resumed "from where they were broken off". "Talks revolved around the signing of an agreement and related issues," he wrote. "Negotiations will resume tomorrow."

Anas Haqqani, brother to the Taliban´s deputy leader, participated in the talks, Shaheen confirmed. Haqqani was released from Afghan government custody last month as part of a prisoner swap that saw an American academic and his Australian colleague freed.

During a surprise visit to a US military base in Afghanistan last week, Trump said the Taliban "want to make a deal." Even during the stall in talks, US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad has in recent weeks made a whistle-stop tour of nations with a stake in Afghan peace, including Pakistan.

Washington had sought to seal a political deal with the Taliban ahead of September´s elections in Afghanistan. An agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars -- a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a commitment by the militants not to offer sanctuary to jihadists.

The Taliban, believing they have the upper hand in the war, kept up attacks even while talking to the United States.

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