US, Taleban to work out timeline for Afghanistan foreign force exit


US, Taleban to work out timeline for Afghanistan foreign force exit

Kabul - 'Both withdrawal and talks can move forward simultaneously.'

By Reuters

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Published: Mon 24 Jun 2019, 9:01 PM

Last updated: Mon 24 Jun 2019, 11:13 PM

Upcoming peace talks between the United States and the Taleban will focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan and on a Taleban guarantee militants won't plot attacks from Afghan soil, sources said on Monday.
A seventh round of talks between the warring sides begins on Saturday in Qatar's capital of Doha, where US and Taleban negotiators have been trying to hammer out a deal to end to the 18-year-long war since October.
"Once the timetable for foreign force withdrawal is announced, then talks will automatically enter the next stage," said Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taleban's political office in Doha.
"We don't need to wait for the completion of the withdrawal, both withdrawal and talks can move forward simultaneously."
The focus of the talks has been a Taleban demand for the withdrawal of US and other foreign forces and a US demand the Taleban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for militant attacks.
Two other main issues in the process are a ceasefire and talks between the rival Afghan sides - the insurgents and the Western-backed government.
But the Taleban have long refused to talk to the Afghan government, denouncing it as foreign "puppet", and fighting has seen no let-up.
Two other sources with knowledge of the talks said the sixth round in May ended with unease on both sides, but since then informal meeting had taken place to work out what can be agreed on.
The US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has also held informal meetings with the Taleban leadership.
"Based on my recent visits to Afghanistan and Qatar, I believe all sides want rapid progress," Khalilzad said on Twitter.
Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat has been leading the talks to secure a political settlement with the hardline Islamist group that now controls more Afghan territory than at any time since being toppled in 2001 by US-led forces.
About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some US forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.
At least 3,804 civilians were killed in the war last year, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Afghan soldiers, police and Taleban were also killed.
Nevertheless, the Taleban leader vowed this month to sustain the fight until their objectives were reached.
In March, a draft agreement was reached on the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for a commitment by the Taleban to cut ties with militant groups such as Al Qaeda.
A Taleban source said both sides were expecting some clarity and results on the prime issues in the new round talks.

"A ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks will not be discussed during the seventh round," said the Taleban source, who declined to be identified.
Some Afghan government officials side fear the United States and the Taleban will strike a deal on the withdrawal of foreign forces, enabling the United States to get out of an unpopular war but leaving government forces to battle on alone.

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