Talks between the U.S – Taliban stretched into a third day on Monday, with no immediate indication that a historic deal between the longtime foes had been reached. The two sides are meeting in Doha for an eighth round of talks to thrash out a deal that would slash the presence of American troops in Afghanistan.
In return, the US is demanding that the Taliban prevent the country from being used as a safe haven for militant groups including Al-Qaeda. A source with the US negotiating team, led by envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, told AFP that the talks were ongoing Monday.
A coalition led by Washington ousted the Taliban in late 2001 accusing it of harbouring Al-Qaeda militants who claimed the September 11 attacks against the US that killed almost 3,000 people. But despite a rapid conclusion to the conventional phase of the war, the Taliban has waged a formidable insurgency, bogging down US troops for years.
Washington wants to strike a peace deal with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghanistan’s presidential election that is slated for September 28. US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House last week that “we’ve made a lot of progress. We’re talking”. However, even if the US and the Taliban come to an agreement, massive questions loom over what the next steps would be.
The US has said any withdrawal of its troops would be “conditions-based” whereas the Taliban is insisting on a full pullout of foreign forces before making commitments of its own. The US sees an agreement with the Taliban as a precursor to the insurgents then striking a peace deal with Afghanistan’s government.
In a sign of progress, the Afghan government has formed a negotiating team for talks with the insurgents that diplomats hope could be held later this month. But the Taliban views President Ashraf Ghani’s administration as illegitimate.
The United Nations has said that civilian casualty rates in Afghanistan jumped back to record levels last month, after a dip earlier in the year. More than 1,500 civilians were killed or wounded in the conflict in July, the highest monthly toll so far in 2019 and the deadliest single month since May 2017.