The Taliban killed at least 26 pro-government forces in northern Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, just as the seventh round of US-negotiated peace talks began in Qatar. The focus of the peace talks has been a Taliban demand that foreign forces leave Afghanistan, a US demand for a guarantee that the country will not be used as a base for attacks elsewhere, as well as a ceasefire and talks between the insurgents and the western-backed government. About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train and assist Afghan forces. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on a trip to Kabul this week that he hoped a peace pact could be reached by September 1. 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 battling Taliban insurgents and other extremist groups, such as Islamic State and al-Qaida.