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US, Taliban make progress in marathon peace talks

March 13, 2019

The US and Taliban have made progress on the issue of foreign troop withdrawal and counterterrorism. The US negotiator said once those issues are finalized, intra-Afghan talks and a ceasefire will be on the table.

Afghan peace talks, file photo from February 25, 2019
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs

US and Taliban negotiators wrapped up their latest round of peace talks with progress made, but with no agreement on a timetable for a foreign troop withdrawal, both sides said Tuesday.

The 16 days of talks in the Qatari capital Doha produced an agreement "in draft" on a troop withdrawal timeline and counterterrorism assurances, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter.

Read more: Civilian deaths in Afghanistan reached 9-year peak in 2018 

"The conditions for peace have improved. It's clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides," the Afghan-born US diplomat said.

The Taliban have held multiple rounds of talks with US negotiators, but have so far refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan government or commit to a ceasefire amid nearly daily attacks. 

The last round of talks in January led the US and the Taliban to agree on a "draft framework" on a troop withdrawal and counterterrorism measures.

Washington is seeking assurances that the Taliban will not allow Afghanistan to be used by militants to carry out terrorist attacks abroad — the reason US forces invaded the country following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. 

"Peace requires agreement on four issues: counterterrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire," Khalilzad said

"When the agreement in draft about a withdrawal timeline and effective counterterrorism measures is finalized, the Taliban and other Afghans, including the government, will begin intra-Afghan negotiations on a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire," he added.

Taliban confirm progress

In a statement, the Taliban affirmed "progress was achieved" on a troop withdrawal timeline and counterterrorism assurances. However, it stressed no ceasefire deal had been reached, nor any agreement made to conduct direct talks with the Afghan government, which it views as a US puppet.

"For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships and prepare for the upcoming meeting, the date of which shall be set by both negotiation teams," the statement read.

It was unclear when the next round of talks would be held.

The Afghan government said it was pleased with the progress.

"We hope to witness a long term comprehensive ceasefire with the Taliban and hope that direct negotiations of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban begin soon," said Haroon Chakhansuri, President Ashraf Ghani's spokesperson, on Twitter.

Despite years of US and NATO support for the Afghan government, its security forces have failed to secure the country, nearly half of which is under the control of the Taliban.

US President Donald Trump has said he wants to end America's longest war and bring back home some 14,000 US troops in the country.

cw/se (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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