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Differences resolved on US troop withdrawal: Taliban

August 07, 2019 00:00:00

KABUL, Aug 06 (Agencies): The United States and the Taliban have resolved differences in peace talks over US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as over insurgent guarantees on cutting ties with other extremist groups, a Taliban official said on Tuesday.

The development came during US-Taliban talks over the past two days in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

The US side did not immediately confirm or provide details of what was resolved but the US envoy reported "excellent progress" in the talks. The Taliban official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the negotiations.

Technical teams from the two sides were continuing discussions on Tuesday in Doha.

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been tasked with finding a peaceful resolution to the nearly 18-year war, America's longest conflict, has made intra-Afghan talks and a permanent cease-fire among his priorities in the negotiations.

Khalilizad, who later traveled to New Delhi, said in a Twitter post overnight that "we have made excellent progress" in the discussions.

However, the talks in Qatar have sidelined the government in Kabul. The Taliban refuse to talk directly with government representatives, accusing President Ashraf Ghani's government of being a puppet of the US

The Taliban have kept up a near-daily rate of deadly attacks, despite holding several rounds of peace talks with Khalilizad since his appointment as peace envoy almost a year ago.

The Taliban now control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since 2001, when the US-led invasion toppled their government that had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

The US and the Taliban now appear to be closing in on an agreement under which US forces would withdraw in exchange for guarantees that Afghanistan would not become a haven for other terrorist groups.

Khalilzad has said he is hoping for a final agreement by Sept. 1, which would allow the withdrawal of US and NATO troops. Over 20,000 US and NATO troops are in Afghanistan, including some 14,000 US forces.

The US and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014, but the American and allied troops continue to train and build the Afghan military. Separately, US forces also assist the Afghan troops in airstrikes and raids on the Taliban and against the Islamic State group's affiliate in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump has often expressed his exasperation with America's continued involvement in Afghanistan and his desire to bring troops home.

Meanwhile, the Taliban warned Afghans on Tuesday to keep away from election rallies and ordered its fighters to "stand against" the planned September vote.

The militants and other insurgent groups conducted frequent attacks during previous elections, and this year's campaign season has already been rocked by deadly violence.

The presidential election is slated for September 28, but the race has got off to a lacklustre start and some candidates have yet to launch their campaigns.

Many observers think the poll will be postponed again - it has already been pushed back twice this year - to create space for a peace deal to be finalised between the US and the Taliban.

The Taliban said its fighters should "stand against this theatrical and sham of a process to their full capabilities" - a clear instruction to conduct attacks.

"To prevent losses, God forbid, from being incurred by our fellow compatriots, they must stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets," a message posted on the Taliban's website stated.

The Taliban said Afghan elections do not "hold any value", referring to the 2014 presidential poll that was mired in fraud allegations and saw the US broker a power-sharing deal between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

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