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US's Afghanistan envoy arrives in Kabul, next stop Qatar

04 Dec 2019 Al Jazeera

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Wednesday in an attempt to breathe new life into efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, the US State Department has said.

His next stop will be Doha, where he is due to rejoin talks with Taliban negotiators to discuss steps that could lead to a ceasefire and a settlement to the war in, according to a State Department statement.

"Ambassador Khalilzad will rejoin talks with the Taliban to discuss steps that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a peaceful settlement of the war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a ceasefire," the statement said.

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In September, the United States and the Taliban had appeared on the verge of signing a deal that would have seen Washington begin pulling thousands of troops out of Afghanistan in return for promises to keep out foreign armed groups.

It was also expected to pave the way towards direct talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul and, ultimately, a possible peace agreement after more than 18 years of war.

But that same month, Trump abruptly called the year-long effort "dead" and withdrew an invitation to the Taliban to meet in the US after the killing of an American soldier.

During a surprise visit to an American military base in Afghanistan last week, Trump said the Taliban "wants to make a deal."

But the group later said it was "way too early" to speak of resuming direct talks with Washington.

"We will not announce any ceasefire before a deal with the US, and secondly we will not agree to hold any meetings with the Afghan government before that," a senior Taliban official told Reuters News Agency.

Signs of cooperation 

The Taliban has described the Afghan government as illegitimate and steadfastly refused to a ceasefire before reaching a deal with the US, but even during the stall in talks, Khalilzad has seen signs that the Taliban is ready to cooperate.

He recently helped arrange a captive swap in which the Taliban released two academics, from the US and Australia, whom they had held hostage for three years.

And in an indirect dovetailing of interests that was noted favourably by Khalilzad, both US and Afghan forces as well as the Taliban have been battling fighters from ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

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Afghan forces recently announced that the group's local branch, dubbed IS-K or ISIS-K, was completely defeated in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

"ISIS-K hasn't been eliminated but this is real progress," Khalilzad wrote on Twitter, noting "effective operations" by US-led, Afghan government as well as Taliban fighters. 

Khalilzad has also kept visiting nations seen as vital to Afghan peace, including Pakistan.

Original Link: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/afghanistan-envoy-arrives-kabul-stop-qatar-191204172659628.html

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