US, Taliban Resume Talks 08/23 06:28

US, Taliban Resume Talks               08/23 06:28

   A United States envoy and the Taliban resumed negotiations Thursday on 
ending America's longest war after earlier signaling they were close to a deal.

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A United States envoy and the Taliban resumed 
negotiations Thursday on ending America's longest war after earlier signaling 
they were close to a deal.

   A Taliban member familiar with, but not part of, the talks that resumed in 
Qatar said U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad also met one-on-one Wednesday with the 
Taliban's lead negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The Taliban member spoke 
on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with reporters.

   Baradar is one of the Taliban's founders and has perhaps the strongest 
influence on the insurgent group's rank-and-file members. Some in Afghanistan 
fear that Taliban fighters who reject a deal with the U.S. could migrate to 
other militant groups such as the brutal local affiliate of the Islamic State 
group, which claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Kabul wedding 
over the weekend that killed at least 80 people.

   That attack again raised fears among Afghans that a U.S.-Taliban deal will 
bring little peace for long-suffering civilians who have died by the tens of 
thousands in the past decade alone.

   The U.S. and the Taliban have held eight previous rounds of negotiations in 
the past year on issues including a U.S. troop withdrawal, a cease-fire, 
intra-Afghan negotiations to follow and Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan 
will not be a launch pad for global terror attacks.

   Previously, Khalilzad has said the intra-Afghan negotiations will be the 
occasion to work out thorny issues such as constitutional reforms, the fate of 
the country's many militias and even the name for Afghanistan, as the Taliban 
still refers to it as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

   It was not immediately clear when a deal might be reached. President Donald 
Trump, who wants to bring home at least some of the 13,000 troops he says 
remain in Afghanistan before next year's election, was briefed on the 
negotiations Friday.

   This week, Trump said it was "ridiculous" that U.S. troops have been in the 
country for almost 18 years. Two U.S. service members were killed on Wednesday, 
joining more than 2,400 U.S. service personnel who have died since the U.S.-led 
invasion in 2001 to topple the Taliban, whose government had harbored al-Qaida 
leader Osama bin Laden.

   Trump this week also said Afghanistan remains dangerous and "we have to have 
a presence" --- a stance that could complicate talks with the Taliban, whose 
top demand has been the departure of all U.S. and allied troops, which number 
close to 20,000. A Taliban spokesman said the commander of U.S. forces in 
Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, was at the negotiations in Qatar on Thursday.

   The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014, but 
American and allied troops remain, conducting strikes on the Islamic State 
group and the Taliban and working to train and build the Afghan military.

   The prospect of a troop withdrawal has created widespread concern that 
another civil war in Afghanistan could follow as various armed parties jostle 
for power.

   Afghanistan was the world's deadliest conflict in 2018, and the United 
Nations has said more civilians died there last year than in the past decade. 
Over 32,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in the past 10 years.

   The Taliban, which now control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their 
strongest since their 2001 defeat in the U.S.-led invasion, have dismissed the 
Afghan government as a U.S. puppet but have repeatedly offered talks with 
anyone who comes to the table as an ordinary Afghan.

   Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday night asserted that his government 
will see the final draft of a U.S.-Taliban agreement for a "comprehensive 
discussion" before it is signed.

   Afghanistan will not be significantly affected even if 5,000 U.S. forces 
leave in the next five months, an option that has been under discussion, he 
added in a nationally televised interview.

   Khalilzad, who plans to meet with the Afghan government in Kabul on this 
trip, has expressed his desire for an agreement by Sept. 1, less than a month 
before Afghanistan's presidential election. Ghani, who seeks a second term, has 
insisted the vote must take place to give the government a strong mandate to 
deal with the Taliban.


(KR)

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