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Crucial Round of US-Taliban Peace Talks Under Way

By Ayaz Gul August 22, 2019

The United States and the Afghan Taliban have resumed peace talks in Qatar to try to conclude an agreement that would bring an end to the longest U.S. overseas military intervention.

The crucial ninth round of talks in the yearlong dialogue process got under way Thursday in the Qatari capital of Doha amid expectations it will lead to the much-awaited peace agreement between the two adversaries.

The talks come a day after clashes with Taliban insurgents in northern Afghanistan killed two American soldiers, bringing the number of U.S military fatalities in the country this year to 14, exceeding the 2018 total.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the special reconciliation envoy for Afghanistan, is leading the American side while Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai is heading insurgent negotiators, said a Taliban spokesman.

"Head of occupation forces Scott Miller was also present in these negotiations," Zabihullah Mujahid said, referring to the American commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad will travel to Kabul for meetings with the Afghan leadership after concluding the meeting in Doha.

The Afghan-born chief U.S. negotiator tweeted before leaving Washington on Tuesday that "we will try and close on remaining issues. We're ready. Let's see if the Taliban are as well."

The deal, if reached, would require Washington to announce a timeline for withdrawing U.S.-led foreign troops from the country. In return, the Taliban will give guarantees they will not allow transnational terrorists to use Afghan soil for attacks against other countries.

The agreement would pave the way for talks among the Taliban and Afghan stakeholders, including representatives of the government in Kabul. Those talks will focus on a permanent cease-fire and issues related to future governance in Afghanistan.

'Very good discussions' with U.S.

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday his envoys have held "very good discussions" with the Taliban, though he cautioned that a troop withdrawal agreement might not be realized.

Trump has been a strong critic of U.S. involvement in overseas wars. He promised during his 2016 presidential campaign that he would extricate America from international conflicts.

The American president appears to be in a hurry to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan before next year's presidential election, in an effort to boost his bid for another four-year term.

Trump has emphasized that even in the event of a peace deal with the Taliban that involves troop withdrawal, the U.S. would leave behind a "very significant intelligence" force for operations against the Islamic State and al-Qaida, maintaining that Afghanistan is "a breeding ground" for terrorists.

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