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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Taliban meet US officials in UAE over Afghan peace effort

The meeting that includes Pakistani, Saudi and Emirati officials is part of effort to resolve the ongoing Afghan war

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Russia November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Russia November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Afghan Taliban representatives held another round of talks with US officials on Monday, this time in the UAE, which also included Pakistani, Saudi and Emirati representatives in the latest bid to bring an end to Afghanistan's 17-year war.

The militant group's spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the daylong meeting had taken place on Monday but offered no further details except that "discussions were held with the American side over the end to the invasion of Afghanistan".

Although the Afghan government has not taken part directly in the talks, a team from Kabul met US and Saudi officials in the UAE on Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani's National Security Adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, said.

Khalil Minawi, director of Afghanistan's state-run Bakhtar news agency, also confirmed the meeting. He said on Twitter that officials from the United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UAE held meetings Sunday ahead of "the Pakistani-sponsored US-Taliban meeting".

Mr Mujahid later said the Taliban would only meet with officials from the US and other countries, refusing to meet with officials from the Afghan government. He said the meetings were continuing.

A Pakistani government official told news site Voice of America that the talks began in Abu Dhabi and the US side was led by US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

The meeting follows at least two meetings between Taliban officials and Mr Khalilzad in Qatar.

Senior members of the Taliban in Afghanistan said the talks would continue for three days. Taliban officials from the movement's political headquarters in Qatar and two representatives sent by Mullah Yaqub, elder son of Taliban founder late Mullah Mohammad Omar, were to be present.

Yaqub's brothers-in-law, Mullah Siddiqullah and Mullah Ameer Khan Muttaqi, were also expected to take part in the three-day talks, Taliban sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban say the presence of international forces in Afghanistan is the main obstacle to peace but have said that issues including mutual recognition with the Kabul government, constitutional changes and women's rights can be negotiated.

Afghanistan's protracted war between government forces, Western coalition forces and the Taliban has continued to be a bloody affair with the group mounting a growing insurgency against the Western-backed government in Kabul and rival militant faction ISIS establishing a presence in the country. The US has spent $1 trillion in Afghanistan since ousting the Taliban in 2001 and the war there has become America's longest.

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a roadmap to peace last month, which involved a 12-person negotiating team.

Mr Ghani faces a presidential election at the beginning of next year, where his complicated record will be challenged.

In recent months fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan National Army has increased, with suicide bombs and coordinated assaults on checkpoints increasing in frequency.

The Afghan National Army is supported by US-led Nato Operation Resolute, which provides counter-insurgency and air support.

Updated: December 17, 2018 09:26 PM

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