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Afghan Taliban repeats call for direct talks with United States

Taliban insurgents turn themselves in to Afghan forces, 2010. (Resolute Support Media/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada has repeated his call for direct talks with the United States to end what he said was the foreign “occupation” of Afghanistan.

In a statement on August 18, Akhundzada said the militant group wanted “sincere, transparent, and result-oriented negotiations” with Washington.

He also said any peace settlement negotiated between the two sides must “preserve our Islamic goals, sovereignty of our homeland, and ensure an end to the war.”

Akhundzada, believed to be living in hiding in neighboring Pakistan, has previously said the militants would not negotiate with the Afghan government, which he labelled a “corrupt regime” and a “puppet.”

His statement came ahead of Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday that runs from August 21-25.

The government is expected to announce a temporary truce with the militants coinciding with the three-day holiday.

Akhundzada made no mention of the cease-fire in his statement.

The Kabul government and the Taliban declared a three-day cease-fire in June coinciding with the Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The brief cessation of hostilities was the first ever between Kabul and the Taliban, and although fighting has resumed, the respite increased optimism that the sides could reach some final peace deal.

A Taliban official told RFE/RL that Taliban representatives met with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells in Qatar on July 23.

The official said the meeting was “very preliminary and the aim was to prepare for future contacts.”

The meeting came amid growing momentum in Washington and Kabul to find a way to end the war.

The Kabul government has struggled to fend off a resurgent Taliban, as well as Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda militants, nearly two decades after a U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001.