US eyes breakthrough in push for peace with Taliban - GulfToday

US eyes breakthrough in push for peace with Taliban

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A general view of the capital city of Kabul, as new talks between the US and the Taliban go on. AFP

Washington is hoping for a breakthrough as talks between the US and the Taliban resumed in Doha on Saturday in a bid to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan.

The US, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops but only in return for the insurgent group renouncing Al-Qaeda and curbing attacks.

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The Afghan flag is seen on Wazir Akbar Khan hill top in Kabul. Wakil Kohsar/AFP

Washington is hoping to strike a peace deal with the Taliban by September 1 -- ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and US presidential polls due in 2020.

US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that "we've made a lot of progress. We're talking".

A coalition led by Washington ousted the Taliban accusing it of harbouring Al-Qaeda jihadists who claimed the September 11, 2001 attacks against the US that killed almost 3,000 people.

“We've made a lot of progress. We're talking.

"We are pursuing a peace agreement not a withdrawal agreement, a peace agreement that enables withdrawal," US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted on Friday as he arrived in Doha after talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad.

"Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based, and any withdrawal will be conditions-based."

In another sign of progress, the Afghan government has formed a negotiating team for separate peace talks with the Taliban, that diplomats hope could be held as early as later this month.

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A helicopter is seen flying towards the Green Zone in Kabul, as new talks between the US and the Taliban go on. AFP

The “Washington Post” reported on Thursday that an initial deal to end the war would see the US force in Afghanistan reduced to as low as 8,000 from the current level of around 14,000.

In exchange, the Taliban would abide by a ceasefire and renounce Al-Qaeda, the Post reported, citing US officials.

The proposed agreement would also require the Taliban to broker a separate peace deal with the Afghan government, with which it has so far refused to speak, Fox News reported.

However, an Afghan official hinted last week that the government of President Ashraf Ghani was preparing for direct talks with the Taliban, the details of which have yet to be announced.

Council on Foreign Relations counter-terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman said that he doubted the Taliban would ever renounce Al-Qaeda — potentially hindering any deal.

Agence France-Presse