EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to technical problems, the audio for this story is not currently available.
The United States and the Afghan Taliban have restarted talks in Qatar’s capital, Doha.
Lead U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad met with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a founder of the Taliban and the group’s political chief.
A Taliban spokesman was reported as saying he hopes the latest negotiations will bring “clear and fruitful” results.
U.S. officials have met several times with Taliban representatives in recent months. The goal is to negotiate a peace deal, agreed to by all sides, to end Afghanistan’s 17-year war.
One of the top issues in earlier talks has been a negotiated withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. A pullout of U.S. troops has been a long-standing Taliban demand. The U.S. military has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. About 8,000 troops from 38 other countries have also deployed there.
A major U.S. demand has been a guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for launching terror attacks on U.S. targets.
The war in Afghanistan began shortly after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States. The U.S.-led military action was aimed at ousting the Taliban from power. U.S. officials accused Taliban leaders of providing shelter to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his followers. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks.
U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad commented on Twitter before going to the peace talks. “Arrived in Doha to meet with a more authoritative Taliban delegation,” his statement read. “This could be a significant moment.”
The Taliban’s decision to send Baradar to the talks was seen as an important move because of his large influence in the Taliban movement. He was released from a jail in Pakistan last year. He had been arrested during a joint Pakistani-U.S. operation in 2010.
Khalilzad is expected to pressure the Taliban to hold direct talks with the U.S.-supported Afghan government, something the group has so far refused to do.
Taliban spokesman Sohail Shahin said the talks will also explore ways to reach a ceasefire deal before spring arrives. In recent years, the return of warmer weather has been linked to an increase in violence.
“We are optimistic about the ongoing talks which can end with good progress,” Shahin said. “It is possible that the Taliban do not refresh or announce their spring offensive.”
United Nations officials estimate that nearly 4,000 civilians were killed in the Afghan conflict in 2018. This was the single deadliest year for Afghan civilians since the U.N. began documenting war casualties 10 years ago.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Twitter. George Grow was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
authoritative – adj. able to be trusted as being accurate or true
significant – adj. important
optimistic – adj. feeling of showing hope for the future