UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — As US and Taliban negotiators seek to complete talks to agree on a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, Taliban sources say any deal will not mean a halt to fighting with the US-backed government.
The two sides have been negotiating an agreement in Qatar since last year focused on the withdrawal of US troops to end the longest US war in return for assurances from the Taliban that international militant groups will not use Afghan territory to plan attacks.
US negotiators have been pressing the Taliban to agree to talks with the government and a ceasefire, but a senior leader said it would not happen.
“We will continue to fight against the Afghan government and take power by force,” he said on condition of anonymity.
US President Donald Trump has been struggling to pull troops out of Afghanistan to end the 18-year-old war that began after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Another Taliban commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said an agreement was expected to be signed this week under which US forces would stop attacking the group and militants would stop fighting US forces.
The agreement also requires the United States to stop supporting the Afghan government, the officials said.
“The Americans will not help the Afghan government and its forces in their war against us,” the senior official said.
But veteran US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading the US side in the negotiations, rejected the suggestion that US forces would no longer support the Kabul government. “No one should be intimidated or deceived by propaganda,” he said.
“Let me speak clearly: We will defend the Afghan forces now and after any deal with the Taliban,” he wrote on Twitter in response to the Reuters report.
“All parties agree that the future of Afghanistan will be determined in inter-Afghan negotiations,” he said.
US officials involved in the negotiations could not be reached for comment.
– Separate agreement –
Two diplomatic sources familiar with the ninth round of talks in Qatar said they expected an agreement this week to enable the United States to withdraw about 50 percent of its troops.
They said the fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan government would have to be negotiated separately.
“A ceasefire between Afghan and Taliban forces requires a separate agreement and the deliberations have not yet begun,” said a diplomat who follows negotiations in Qatar.
“The agreement between the United States and the Taliban will stop US air strikes on the Taliban and the Taliban will also stop internal attacks on US soldiers and other foreigners,” he said.
A Western diplomat said preparations were underway for talks between the warring Afghan sides in Norway. The government and its allies have identified a group of at least 30 Afghans for talks with the Taliban.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the movement’s political bureau in Doha, said negotiations continued until late Sunday night.
He said the two sides would meet again on Monday after internal talks in the morning.
“Our meeting with the US team will resume by evening,” he said.
He said most of the issues had been settled but no formal agreement had been reached so far.
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