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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Taliban confirms talks with US officials on Afghan conflict

The militant group said no agreement was reached on 'any issue'

Zalmay Khalilzad, special adviser on reconciliation in Kabul, Afghanistan. AP
Zalmay Khalilzad, special adviser on reconciliation in Kabul, Afghanistan. AP

The Taliban held talks with US officials in Qatar on ending the Afghan conflict last week, the militants confirmed Monday, but said no agreement was reached on "any issue".

The statement comes a day after US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad expressed hopes in Kabul that a peace deal to end the 17-year war could be struck before the Afghan presidential election, scheduled for April.

Senior Taliban officials met with a "high-ranking" US delegation in Qatar on November 14, 15 and 16, the militant group said in a WhatsApp message, without mentioning Mr Khalilzad. The US has made no statement about the talks.

The Taliban has a political office in the capital Doha that serves as a de-facto embassy.

"These were preliminary talks and no agreement was reached on any issue," spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said.

"We want to reassure our Mujahideen and Muslim nation that the representatives of the Islamic Emirate will never agree to anything that does not adhere to Islamic principles."

US envoy Mr Khalilzad was in Kabul after a second round of regional meetings with top Afghan government officials to coordinate efforts on ending the conflict.

In a meeting Monday, Mr Khalilzad told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that the "ground for intra-Afghan talks is more ready than any other time", according to a presidential palace statement.

The second Taliban-US meeting in as many months come as the militants step up attacks on beleaguered Afghan security forces, which are suffering an unprecedented level of casualties.

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The death toll among Afghan soldiers and police is nearing 30,000 since the start of 2015, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani revealed this month – a figure far higher than anything previously acknowledged.

In a recent report, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) cited the Nato mission in Kabul as saying this summer's toll had been worse than ever for Afghan forces.

Mr Khalilzad told reporters on Sunday that he recognised the "complexity" of the conflict, but insisted he wanted to "make as much progress as possible as soon as possible".

His comments underscore an apparent increasing sense of urgency in the White House and among American diplomats for a peace deal to be done quickly.

Washington is facing competition from Moscow, which this month hosted an international gathering on Afghanistan that was attended by the Taliban.