US resumes Afghan peace talks with Taliban, government: State Department

US envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo

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SULAIMANI – The US special representative to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, will resume talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, “as part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that ends the conflict in Afghanistan,” the State Department said in a statement.

Khalilzad will consult with leaders of the Afghan government in Kabul and encourage negotiations between the two sides, it said.

The envoy on Friday briefed President Donald Trump on the status of negotiations with the Taliban on a US troop pullout and the potential for a political settlement between the warring sides.

Trump told reporters two days later that the United States was having “very good discussions” with both the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Trump, who has repeatedly questioned the billions of dollars spent in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has made no secret of his desire to pull out of Afghanistan after 19 years of war triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

About 14,000 US troops remain engaged in America’s longest war, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counterinsurgency operations against militant groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State’s local affiliate, as well as the Taliban, the country’s former Islamist rulers.

The prospect of a pullout has raised fears within the US military and among some American lawmakers that Afghanistan could plunge into a new civil war that could see a return of Taliban rule and give al Qaeda and other Islamist militants a sanctuary in which to expand and plot new attacks on US and allied targets.

“The conversations are going well. But in the end, it will be about what’s delivered on the ground, whether that’s from the Afghan government, other Afghans that aren’t inside the Afghan government, the Taliban,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday in an interview with CNBC.

“The truth will be in the reality. What really happens on the ground? If we can reduce violence, we’ll create a space where we can withdraw not only American support but NATO forces that are there as well,” Pompeo said.

Islamic State militants, who battle government forces and the Taliban and have carried out some of the deadliest attacks in urban centers, will not be part of the deal between the United States and the Taliban.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a wedding in Kabul on Saturday that killed 63 people and wounded 182.

(NRT Digital Media/ Reuters)