Tuesday, October 27, 2020

US envoy says Taliban agree to reduce Afghan casualties

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Afghanistan’s Taliban have promised US forces to reduce attacks and casualties after a major assault on a city raised questions about ongoing peace talks, a US envoy said Thursday.

“At present too many Afghans are dying. With the re-set, we expect that number to drop significantly,” Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated a February 29 deal with the Taliban to pull out US forces, wrote on Twitter.

Khalilzad said that he and General Austin Miller, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, met several times with the Taliban to discuss “strictly adhering” to the terms of the agreement.

“This means reduced numbers of operations,” Khalilzad said. “Attacks have been on the rise in recent weeks — threatening the peace process and alarming the Afghan people and their regional and international supporters.”

The Taliban confirmed that their chief negotiator Abdul Hakim met with Khalilzad and Miller over the past few days. Both sides stressed the importance of the US-Taliban agreement and discussed ways to ensure its “full implementation,” the group’s Doha spokesman Mohammad Naseem Wardak tweeted.

Read more: Taliban violence pose ‘serious challenges’ to Afghan peace process: Ghani

Under the February deal, the Taliban said they would not attack cities while the US said it would refrain from assaults on the insurgents except to defend the Afghan forces. Afghan officials accused the Taliban of breaching the agreement with an assault on the city of Lashkar Gar, from which tens of thousands of people have fled in recent days.

The attack prompted the US to call in airstrikes to defend Afghan forces. Under the February deal, the Taliban agreed not to allow Afghanistan to be used by foreign extremists — the original reason for the US invasion after the September 11, 2001 attacks — and halted operations against Western forces.

The Taliban did not promise to end violence against the internationally recognized government in Kabul but said they would discuss a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” in peace talks. Those talks began last month in Doha although there has been little apparent progress, with disputes even on the nature of how to negotiate.

The head of NATO, which leads the Afghanistan operations, said that the alliance was committed to the nation’s security and that he had spoken to Khalilzad. “The Doha talks offer the best chance for peace, but Taliban must keep their promises and reduce the unacceptable level of violence,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.

Read more: US strikes target Taliban as fighting rages in Afghanistan

With US elections less than a month away, President Donald Trump is trying to make good on his promise to pull back troops from Afghanistan and end America’s longest war. He voiced hope last week at withdrawing all troops by Christmas, speeding up the timeline agreed in Doha.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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