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U.S.-Taliban peace talks to end Afghan war enter 'make-or-break moment'

29 Jun 2019 Japan Times

KABUL - Negotiators for the United States and Taliban Islamist militants on Saturday were set to start a seventh round of peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, offering what one U.S. official called a “make-or-break moment” to halt 18 years of fighting.

U.S. and Taliban officials privy to the talks said they will seek to finalize a schedule to withdraw foreign troops in return for a Taliban commitment to keep militant groups from using the country as a base to attack the United States and its allies.

Saturday’s talks will be led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, who has held six rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar’s capital of Doha since October.

“There is a genuine sense of expectation on both sides,” said a senior U.S. official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to media. “It’s a make-or-break moment.”

The pace of talks between the U.S. and Taliban has quickened as Afghanistan heads for presidential elections on Sept. 28.

“This is one of the crucial meetings,” a senior Taliban leader in Qatar said. “If we fail to find any solution to the Afghan conflict then we would like to negotiate with the elected representatives of the American people.”

On a trip to Kabul this week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was close to finishing a draft agreement with the militants on counterterrorism assurances, and he hoped a peace pact could be reached by Sept. 1.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counterterrorism operations.

The Taliban, who control or contest half the country, more than at any time since they were ousted by the U.S. invasion in 2001, do not support the election process.

They want to form an interim government, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and leaders of opposition political parties have rejected the demand.

Ghani, who has been sidelined from the talks, hopes the seventh round will open the door for an intra-Afghan meeting.

Germany, a key ally of the United States in Afghanistan, is trying to organize a meeting of the Taliban and civilian representatives.

Some Afghan officials fear the United States and the Taliban will strike a deal allowing the U.S. to leave the country, leaving government forces to battle on alone.

On Friday, the Defense Ministry in Kabul said a senior Taliban governor was killed in an airstrike in the eastern Logar province, and a commander was killed in clashes with Afghan security forces in northern Balkh province.

The Taliban dismissed the report about the death of the Logar governor as government propaganda, however.

Original Link: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/06/29/asia-pacific/u-s-taliban-peace-talks-end-afghan-war-enter-make-break-moment/

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