‘Most Crucial’ Round Begins for US-Taliban Peace Talks
A new round of US-Taliban peace talks – described by Washington’s chief negotiator as the “most crucial” phase of negotiations – began in Qatar’s capital Doha on Saturday. “We are pursuing a #peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement; a peace agreement that enables withdrawal. Our presence in #Afghanistan is conditions-based, and any withdrawal will be conditions-based,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US peace envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted on Friday. Two anonymous senior officials cited a Reuters report estimated that a peace agreement could be reached before August 13 and would entail a withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees by the Taliban. About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in the war-torn country as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. The conflict, which began in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks against the United States, removed the Taliban from power within a year and has since involved assisting the Afghan government’s security forces in battling Taliban and other extremist insurgents, such as Islamic State and al-Qaida. The Taliban now control more territory than at any point since Washington intervened in 2001.