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Afghanistan Peace Talks Stuck on Issue of US Bases


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, second left, arrives at NATO's Resolute Support mission in Kabul, Sept. 7, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Thomas WATKINS )
Afghanistan Peace Talks Stuck on Issue of US Bases
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A former Afghan Taliban official is reporting little progress in negotiations between the Taliban and the United States.

The two sides are attempting to reach a political settlement to end the war in Afghanistan.

Hopes for peace talks increased in June. That was when the militant group agreed to a ceasefire at the end of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month.

But recently, Taliban forces launched offensives and put Afghan security forces under severe pressure.

The former Taliban official, Waheed Muzhda, is in Kabul, but has been in contact with Taliban leaders. He said the negotiations are stuck over the issue of U.S. military bases in the country.

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft takes off for a mission from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2017.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft takes off for a mission from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2017.

The “…U.S. wants the Taliban to accept at least two military bases: Bagram and Shorabak. The Taliban are not willing to accept it,” the former official said.

The Bagram air base is the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan. Shorabak is a base in Helmand province.

Muzhda added that the Taliban leadership is unwilling to accept more than a set number of troops required to secure the U.S. diplomatic mission in Afghanistan.

Negotiation efforts just beginning

People in Washington spoke to VOA about the negotiations. They did not want to be identified in this report. But they did say that keeping military bases in Afghanistan was very important to the U.S. government.

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Christopher Kolenda speaks with VOA via Skype, Aug. 22, 2018.
Retired U.S. Army Colonel Christopher Kolenda speaks with VOA via Skype, Aug. 22, 2018.

Christopher Kolenda is a retired colonel and former advisor to the U.S. Defense Department. He took part in informal talks with the Taliban in Qatar this year.

Kolenda told VOA that the group considers U.S. combat troops an occupying force and wants them out of Afghanistan. He went on to say that the main reason that the Taliban carries out its war “is the occupation.” He added that the group says it is fighting to oust U.S. troops from the country.

Kolenda said the Taliban did show a willingness to let foreign troops train Afghan forces with a condition. He said it would accept foreign troops if a new government, formed after a negotiated settlement, agreed to their presence. Such a government would likely include Taliban representatives.

In July, U.S. State Department official Alice Wells met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar’s capital. The meeting was believed to be an answer to the Taliban’s demands that the group meet directly with the United States, not the Afghan government in Kabul.

Alice Wells, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, meets with Pakistani army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss how to ensure peace in Afghanistan following a recent cease-fire between the Taliban and Kabul, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, July 3, 2018.
Alice Wells, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, meets with Pakistani army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss how to ensure peace in Afghanistan following a recent cease-fire between the Taliban and Kabul, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, July 3, 2018.

Muzhda said that the Taliban accepts 80 percent or more of Afghanistan’s constitution. But the group believes the document was formed under, what it calls, a U.S. occupation.

The Taliban has said that one of its goals is to establish Sharia, or Islamic law.

Khalilullah Safi is an Afghan peace activist. Safi agrees that the Taliban largely accepts the Afghan constitution. He added that the increase in violence may have resulted from an opinion released by about 2,000 Muslim scholars. That ruling outlawed suicide bombings.

Safi said the Taliban may have been trying to show that it was not affected by the opinion.

Other observers say the Taliban is increasing attacks to improve its position before negotiations with the U.S.

Speaking of issues important to Taliban negotiators, Muzhda said the release of prisoners was an important issue to the group.

Reuters reports that Taliban officials are preparing a three-to-four member delegation for additional talks with the U.S. They reportedly want prisoners released to “meet again for another great cause.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered the Taliban unconditional negotiations at any time and in any place.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Ayesha Tanzeem reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

mission – n. a group of people sent to a foreign country for a specific reason

scholar – n. someone who has completed studies in a special field

informal adj. marked by the lack of ceremony; not requiring serious behavior

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