Taliban and US to hold new round of talks in Qatar
Taliban and US officials will hold a new round of talks in Qatar on Wednesday, as the two sides seek to end a long and bloody insurgency in Afghanistan that has cost tens of thousands of lives.
The two-days of talks will centre on a planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending a travel ban on Taliban leaders and a prisoner exchange.
"This time we want to hold talks with the American officials," a Taliban leader in Afghanistan told Reuters.
"After mutual consultations, we are going to meet US officials in Doha on Wednesday. The meeting will continue for two days."
It is the fourth round of talks held between the Afghan militant group and US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, which have also included Saudi and UAE officials - former allies of the Taliban.
The Taliban are still refusing to meet Afghan "puppet" government officials, although Kabul is keen to establish talks with the insurgents "anywhere and anytime", according to one leading official.
"Every country involved in Afghanistan expects the Taliban to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, but they have not agreed to meet us," an aide of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told the news agency.
The Taliban reportedly refused to attend talks with the US in Saudi Arabia this month, due to the planned inclusion of Afghan government officials.
"We were supposed to meet US officials in Riyadh next week and continue our peace process that remained incomplete in Abu Dhabi last month," a senior Taliban member told Reuters on Sunday.
"The problem is that leaders of Saudi Arabia and the (UAE) wanted us to definitely meet the Afghan government delegation, which we cannot afford to do now, and we have cancelled the meeting in Saudi Arabia."
The Taliban asked for talks to be held in Qatar instead, where the group operates a political office.
Crucially, Pakistani officials will take participate, with Islamabad thought to wield influence over the militant group.
The US have accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to operate safe havens on the Afghan border leading Washington to cut military aid to the government, although Islamabad strongly denies ties with the insurgents.
Islamabad is reportedly pushing the Taliban to hold talks with the government, with Umer Daudzai, a senior adviser to President Ghani, expected to visit Pakistan on Tuesday.
President Donald Trump wants a major scale-back of Washington's involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 US troops operate as part of a NATO peacekeeping operation.
The war in Afghanistan is Washington's longest overseas military intervention and has cost the country close to a trillion dollars.
Trump wants to withdraw American troops from the country and establish a peace deal with the Taliban in time for Afghanistan's presidential and parliamentary elections, due early to mid-2019.
The elections have been viewed as a litmus test for the future security of the country.