Kabul and Washington have reaffirmed their commitment to peace talks with the Taliban, stressing that these would be Afghan-led. The agreement came less than a day after the Afghan presidential palace came under attack.
The White House said on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai had reiterated their support for holding talks at the newly-opened Taliban political office in Qatar.
Both leaders, who spoke in a video call, "reaffirmed that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region," Washington said.
"They reiterated their support for an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the (the Afghan government's) High Peace Council and authorized representatives of the Taliban."
Karzai had reacted angrily when the Taliban opened their new office in Doha last week, complete with the insurgents' white flag and a plaque bearing the formal title "Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan." That wording was used by the hard-line Taliban regime that ruled the country from 1996 until the US-led invasion of 2001.
Kabul said the regalia gave the Taliban a propaganda coup, effectively portraying them as a government in exile rather than willing participants in peace talks. The flag and plaque were subsequently removed.
Karzai had also bridled at reports of planned US-Taliban talks in Doha without Afghan involvement. The Afghan government has long insisted that it should lead negotiations and the bilateral US-Taliban talks were stalled.
The latest statement appeared to pave the way for the Afghan-led negotiaions to take place.
The White House also said that, in their video conference, the two leaders had discussed Afghanistan's future post-2014, when some 100,000 foreign combat troops are set to leave the country.
Earlier on Tuesday, a Taliban attack near Karzai's palace in Kabul had thrown further doubt on whether peace talks would take place. The incident also demonstrated the Taliban's ability to penetrate even the most highly-fortified areas of the capital.
The Taliban said all eight of their fighters had been killed in the attack, while the Afghan Interior Ministry said three security guards were killed. Local forces were said to have fended off the attack without intervention from foreign troops.
While the Taliban have said they are prepared to talk, they have also vowed to simultaneously continue fighting.
rc/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)