The Taliban held talks with U.S. officials in Qatar on ending the Afghan conflict last week, the militants confirmed Monday, November 19, but said no agreement was reached on “any issue.”
The statement comes a day after U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad expressed hopes in Kabul that a peace deal could be struck before the Afghan presidential election, scheduled for April 20 next year.
Khalilzad was in the Afghan capital after a second round of regional meetings with senior government officials to coordinate efforts on ending the 17-year war.
Senior Taliban officials met with a “high-ranking” U.S. delegation in Qatar on November 14, 15 and 16, the militant group said in a WhatsApp message, without mentioning Khalilzad.
Khalilzad was present, Al Jazeera reported.
The Taliban has a political office in the capital Doha that serves as a de facto embassy.
“These were preliminary talks and no agreement was reached on any issue,” spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said.
“We want to reassure our Mujahideen and Muslim nation that the representatives of the Islamic Emirate will never agree to anything that does not adhere to Islamic principles.”
The second Taliban-U.S. meeting in as many months come as the militants step up attacks on beleaguered Afghan security forces, which are suffering an unprecedented level of casualties.
The death toll among Afghan soldiers and police is nearing 30,000 since the start of 2015, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani revealed this month – a figure far higher than anything previously acknowledged.
In a recent report, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction cited the NATO Resolute Support mission in Kabul as saying this summer’s toll had been worse than ever for Afghan forces.
According to U.S. Forces – Afghanistan, there were 23 reported ‘green-on-green’ insider attacks against Afghan National Defense and Security Forces personnel from May 17 to August 26, 2018, bringing the 2018 total to 56 insider attacks, SIGAR said in its October quarterly report.
As a result, the ANDSF incurred 42 casualties (28 killed and 14 wounded) and sustained a total of 121 ANDSF casualties (85 killed and 36 wounded) from January 1 to August 26.
On October 18, a Taliban “infiltrator” shot and killed Kandahar province police chief General Abdul Raziq and National Security Directorate provincial chief General Abdulmomin Hassankhail in an insider attack after a meeting attended by senior Afghan and U.S. officials, including General Scott Miller, commander of Resolute Support and U.S. Forces Afghanistan.
The head of NATO’s advisory mission in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Smiley, suffered at least one gunshot wound in the attack.
Khalilzad told reporters on Sunday that he recognized the “complexity” of the conflict, but insisted he wanted to “make as much progress as possible as soon as possible.”
His comments underscore an apparent increasing sense of urgency in the White House and among American diplomats for a peace deal to be done quickly.
Washington is facing competition from Moscow, which this month hosted an international gathering on Afghanistan that was attended by the Taliban.
With reporting from AFP