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Afghan Taliban reportedly holds talks with US envoy in Qatar

Doctor Zalmay Khalilzad, then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. George Casey, then Commanding General, Multi-National Force - Iraq, attend a transfer of security responsibility ceremony in Baghdad, Iraq, Sept. 21, 2006. (Department of Defense photo by Spc. Michael Pfaff)

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

The Associated Press reports that high-ranking members of the Taliban have held three days of talks in Qatar with the U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad.

The report on November 18 said the former Taliban governor of Herat Province, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and former Taliban military chief Mohammed Fazl attended the talks with Khalilzad in Qatar where the Afghan militant group has a political office.

Khairkhwa and Fazl were among five senior Taliban members released from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2014 in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl.

All five former Guantanamo Bay detainees are now based in Qatar and are thought to have enough influence with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan to broker a peace deal.

The U.S. State Department has refused to comment on reported talks between U.S. officials and the Taliban.

Khalilzad has been touring the region in recent days as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is stepping up efforts to settle the conflict after more than 17 years of war.

He met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on November 18 in Kabul where he was expected to push for Ghani to put together his own negotiating team.

Afghanistan’s Taliban has long refused U.S. demands to negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul.

Afghan media on November 18 quoted Khalilzad as saying that he hopes a peace deal with the Taliban would be reached before Afghanistan’s next presidential election on April 20, 2019.

“I am talking to all interested parties, all Afghan groups… and I think there is an opportunity for reconciliation and peace,” Khalilzad told a news conference in Kabul, without referring explicitly to the talks in Qatar.

“The Afghan government wants peace,” the U.S. envoy also said. “The Taliban [is] saying they do not believe they can succeed militarily, that they would like to see the problems that remain resolved by peaceful means, by political negotiations.”

On November 17, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Taliban, which controls more territory than any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, is “not losing” and there is no “military solution” to ending the war.

Dunford, the top U.S. military officer, said during a discussion at a security forum in Halifax, Canada, that the United States and its NATO allies were working to leverage military, political, and economic pressure to convince the Taliban to negotiate an end to the war.

He said the U.S. believes the Taliban knows “that “at some point” it has to reconcile.”

“The key to success is to combine all that pressure to incentivize the Taliban” to negotiate, he added.