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U.S. and Taliban resume peace talks in Qatar

AFP-JIJI

The U.S. and the Taliban met in Qatar on Saturday, resuming potentially decisive talks to allow Washington to withdraw militarily from Afghanistan.

The second day of their ninth round of dialogue had been due to begin Friday but “both sides decided to postpone it until Saturday,” Taliban’s Doha spokesman, Suhail Shaheen said, citing “other engagements.”

“We have made progress and are now discussing the implementation mechanism and some technical points,” he said on Saturday, referring to discussions that took place two days earlier.

“The agreement will be completed after we agree on these points,” he said.

Any deal would be announced before the media as well as representatives from neighboring countries and China, Russia and the United Nations, he added.

The U.S., which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban from power in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops but only in return for the insurgent group renouncing Al-Qaeda and curbing attacks.

Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and U.S. presidential polls due in 2020.

Both the U.S. and Taliban denied media reports Saturday that there had been discussions about the formation of an interim Afghan government that would include the Taliban.

“As the Taliban spokesperson stated earlier, we have had no discussions about an interim government,” the U.S. Afghan special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted.

“Governance decisions are for Afghans to make in intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman, had earlier used his verified Twitter account to dismiss the reports as “not true.”

The Taliban claimed on Saturday to have killed seven members of the U.S. military in an attack on a convoy near Bagram airfield, north of Kabul.

Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said some local businesses had been damaged in the attack but denied coalition or U.S. casualties.

“Rather than taking responsibility for, and apologizing for, the harm they bring to innocent Afghans and their businesses, the Taliban spread lies about the attack,” Leggett told AFP.

On Wednesday, however, two U.S. soldiers were killed by small arms fire in Faryab province in northern Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.

Shaheen said in an interview with the CBS broadcaster that the deaths should have a “positive” impact on the talks in Doha.

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