A man walks past a wall painted with images of Zalmay Khalilzad (left) and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul. AFP
The Taliban have met with the head of US forces in Afghanistan to call for an end to what they say is an increase in American attacks since a peace deal signed in February, allegations the US military denied on Saturday.
A US military spokesman called on the Taliban to stop attacking Afghan security forces and said American troops would continue to come to their aid in accordance with the agreement. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
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The peace deal is aimed at paving the way for the US to extricate itself from the 19-year war, America's longest.
The spokesman confirmed that Gen. Scott Miller met with the Taliban "as part of the military channel established in the agreement" to discuss ways to reduce the violence.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the meeting was held late Friday in the Gulf nation of Qatar, where the insurgent group maintains a political office. Shaheen tweeted Saturday that the two sides held "serious” discussions. He said the Taliban called for a halt to attacks against civilians. The US military says it does not target non-combatants.
The US-Taliban deal, touted as Afghanistan's best chance at ending decades of war, is holding, but progress toward a broader political settlement has been slowed by squabbling within the Afghan government. That has frustrated Washington and delayed the start of the next phase of negotiations, among Afghans themselves.
The Taliban say they have reduced their attacks on Afghan forces and have not attacked US or NATO troops since the agreement was signed on Feb. 29. Most of the recent Taliban attacks have been against Afghan forces posted in remote areas.
The Afghan government meanwhile said its air force struck Taliban positions in the northeastern Badakhshan province, killing up to 27 insurgents.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said civilians were killed and wounded, blaming US and Afghan forces. The US military spokesman declined to respond to the allegation but said that the Taliban often falsely accuse the US of carrying out bombing raids launched by Afghan forces.
The flurry of activity — including Taliban visits to Iran and Moscow, and a planned trip to Turkey — comes as the Afghan government’s negotiating team warned this week that if the Taliban fail to resume the talks, the government could recall its team from Doha.
Haibatullah Akhundzada urged Washington "not to waste" the opportunity offered by the deal to end America's longest war in a message released ahead of next week's Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The US, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops and turn the page on its longest ever war.
The move, days after US President Donald Trump cancelled a planned meeting with Taliban leaders at his Camp David retreat, came as the movement looks to bolster regional support, with visits also planned for China, Iran and Central Asian states.
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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) expressed its sincere condolences to Pakistan and Afghanistan and their peoples, as well as to the families of the victims of this tragedy. It also wished the injured a speedy recovery.
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