Trump meets advisers on Afghan peace plan
A US defense official said significant differences remained between the United States and the Taliban after an eighth round of talks
Preparations for a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan are going “very well,” United States President Donald Trump said after a meeting with top advisors.
The US has been holding talks with Taliban officials in Doha in recent months in a bid to negotiate an end to Americas longest and most expensive war nearly two decades after they entered Afghanistan.
One of the main issues in the negotiations is the withdrawal of US and international forces from the country. However, Kabul has expressed concern about an abrupt departure. The US has sought to offer several assurances to Kabul about America’s ongoing relationship in the event of a US-Taliban deal with a separate agreement, sources in Afghan government told The National.
"Discussions cantered around our ongoing negotiations and eventual peace and reconciliation agreement with the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan. The meeting went very well, and negotiations are proceeding," deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement.
Mr Trump added on Twitter: "Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan. Many on the opposite side of this 19-year war, and us, are looking to make a deal – if possible!"
Mr Trump, who is on a working vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, received an afternoon briefing from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other advisers on the talks, which have been handled by Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad.
Vice President Mike Pence and White House national security adviser John Bolton were among the attendees, an official said.
A US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said significant differences remained between the United States and the Taliban after an eighth round of talks ended in Qatar on Monday.
This includes the US demand that the insurgents publicly renounce ties to Al Qaeda and other militant groups and agree to a nationwide ceasefire, the official said.
The US military presence dates to 2001 when then-President George W. Bush invaded in pursuit of Al Qaeda and ousted the Taliban rulers who had given Osama bin Laden and his followers a safe haven in which they plotted the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Mr Trump has been adamant that he would like to withdraw US forces, possibly ahead of the November 2020 election.
So expectations are rising for a deal in which the United States would start withdrawing its 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan after a two-decade war that has turned into a stalemate.
Washington is keen to end its involvement in Afghanistan, where it has spent more than $1 trillion (Dh 3.67 trillion) and Mr Trump has said since the start of his presidency that he wants troops out.
In return, the Taliban would commit to various security guarantees, including that the Islamist hardliners who long harboured Al Qaeda would not allow Afghanistan to become a militant safe haven.
But a pullout has raised deep concerns within the US military and among some lawmakers that Afghanistan could plunge into a new civil war that could see a return of Taliban rule and give al Qaeda and other militants a sanctuary in which to expand and plot new attacks on U.S. and allied targets.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said any deal should allow the United States to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan to pursue such groups.
"Any peace agreement which denies the U.S. a robust counter-terrorism capability in Afghanistan is not a peace deal," he said in a statement. "Instead, it is paving the way for another attack on the American homeland and attacks against American interests around the world."
A senior administration official said a decision was not necessarily expected from the Bedminster meeting but Mr Trump "has been pretty clear that he wants to bring the troops home."
A US-Taliban agreement would not in itself bring Afghanistan's war to an end, as the insurgents would still need to make a deal with the US-backed Kabul government. Until now, the Taliban has refused to negotiate with the government in Kabul because it views the administration as a puppet of the US.
Mr Khalilzad also is seeking the Taliban's agreement to hold direct negotiations on a political settlement with Kabul government officials who would be part of a delegation that included opposition leaders and civil society representatives. Taliban leaders to date have refused to hold official talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government, which they denounce as a US puppet.
"In continued close cooperation with the government of Afghanistan, we remain committed to achieving a comprehensive peace agreement," Mr Pompeo said in a statement.
This would include "a reduction in violence and a ceasefire, ensuring that Afghan soil is never again used to threaten the United States or her allies, and bringing Afghans together to work towards peace."
Even as the United States and Taliban claim progress in talks, little has changed for Afghans on the ground.
A UN tally found last year was the deadliest on record, with at least 3,804 civilian deaths caused by the war – including 927 children.
According to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 217,000 people had to flee their homes because of fighting during the first seven months of 2019, prompting a huge need for humanitarian aid across the war-torn nation.
Updated: August 17, 2019 04:09 PM