After 16 days of discussions, US and Taliban negotiators have wrapped up their longest round of talks yet hailing progress on some key issues – but without producing a major breakthrough.
In separate statements released on Tuesday, both Taliban and US officials said the marathon negotiations in Qatar produced developments on the withdrawal of US troops and security issues related to any pullout by Washington.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US peace envoy for Afghanistan, said the talks had “improved” the conditions for peace in the country.
“Peace requires agreement on four issues: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire. In January talks, we agreed in principle’ on these four elements,” Khalilzad said in a series of tweets, after the conclusion of the talks in the Qatari capital, Doha.
“We’re now ‘agreed in draft’ on the first two,” he added.
(1/4) Just finished a marathon round of talks with the Taliban in #Doha. The conditions for #peace have improved. It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides.
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) March 12, 2019
A spokesperson for the Taliban, meanwhile, said progress was achieved on the issue of withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and US-sought assurances over the future of security in the country in the event of a troop withdrawal.
About 14,000 US troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a Washington-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some US forces also carry out “counter-terrorism” operations.
‘No breakthrough, no breakdown’
The Doha meeting marked the highest level of negotiations yet between the two sides during Afghanistan’s nearly two-decades-long war, following the talks in January.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Doha, said the most recent negotiations produced “no breakthrough” but “no breakdown either”.
“This is significant because of the scale of these talks – these are the most important talks that have taken place during 18 years of war,” he added.
Diplomatic efforts to end the United States‘s longest-running conflict intensified last year after the appointment of the Afghan-born Khalilzad to lead direct talks with the Taliban, which has been running an armed rebellion since it was dislodged from power in 2001 during a US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
A spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his government, which was not involved in the Doha negotiations, was pleased with the progress made.
“We hope to witness a long term comprehensive ceasefire with the Taliban and hope that direct negotiations of [the] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban begin soon,” Ghani’s spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri, said in a tweet.
The US wants the Taliban to negotiate any final peace deal with Kabul, something the armed group has repeatedly refused to do, calling the Afghan government a “puppet” of the West.
During the latest talks in Doha, violent attacks in Afghanistan continued.
On March 1, at least 23 Afghan security forces were killed in a Taliban attack on a joint US-Afghan base in Helmand province, southwestern Afghanistan.