Sun | Sep 15, 2019

US envoy to resume talks with Taliban on ending Afghan war

Published:Wednesday | August 21, 2019 | 12:26 AM
Afghans look at a banner displaying photographs of victims of the Dubai City wedding hall bombing during a memorial service, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. Hundreds of people have gathered in mosques in Afghanistan’s capital for memorials for scores of people killed in a horrific suicide bombing at a Kabul wedding over the weekend.(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Afghans look at a banner displaying photographs of victims of the Dubai City wedding hall bombing during a memorial service, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. Hundreds of people have gathered in mosques in Afghanistan’s capital for memorials for scores of people killed in a horrific suicide bombing at a Kabul wedding over the weekend.(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

KABUL (AP):

The United States envoy negotiating with the Taliban for an end to nearly 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan was departing yesterday for Qatar to resume the talks, the State Department said, amid concerns about a growing threat by an Islamic State affiliate.

Zalmay Khalilzad also will visit with the Afghan government, which has been sidelined from the talks, to discuss the “peace process and encourage full preparation for intra-Afghan negotiations,” the US said.

The new talks in Qatar, where the insurgent group has a political office, come after a horrific suicide bombing at a wedding in Kabul over the weekend. The blast, claimed by the IS affiliate that has emerged as a brutal threat in recent years, led outraged Afghans to question whether a US-Taliban deal would mean peace for long-suffering civilians.

Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest conflict in 2018, and the United Nations has said more civilians died last year than in the past decade. Afghan officials have said Saturday’s bombing killed more than 63. Over 32,000 civilians have been killed in the past 10 years.

Some 14,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, and their withdrawal is a central part of the US-Taliban talks. Some analysts have warned, however, that President Donald Trump’s eagerness to bring at least some troops home ahead of next year’s election could weaken the US stance in the negotiations as the Taliban might see little need to make significant concessions.

The US, for its part, seeks Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan, which hosted al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks, will not be used as a launch pad for global terror assaults.

Both Khalilzad and the Taliban earlier this month signalled they appeared close to an agreement, and Trump was briefed on the talks with his national security team on Friday.