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Taliban hopeful on possible agreement on US Afghanistan pullout

Afghan provincial governors and members of the High Peace Council, an organization set up to promote peace talks with the Taliban, gather Dec. 6, in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, to talk about reintegrating former Taliban into society. (Spc. Edward A. Garibay, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/U.S. Army)

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

A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban has said the group is close to reaching an agreement with the United States on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Spokesman Suhail Shaheen made the comment in Doha, Qatar, following the second day of negotiations with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on February 26.

“If we do not reach a solution in this round of talks, then we will in the next round of talks,” he told AP.

Khalilzad’s past rounds of talks with the Taliban focused on U.S. troop withdrawal in exchange for guarantees of no attacks against the United States, but it was unclear how close he was on a deal on those issues.

He said that in exchange for a U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban would offer guarantees that Afghanistan would not be used as a staging area for anti-American attacks.

Shaheen said it was very important that Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was in Doha for the talks, saying it showed “how much importance we are giving to these talks and how [high] expectations are.”

Khalilzad did not comment on the February 26 round, but he posted on Twitter on February 25 that this round of talks could be “a significant moment” in the process of winding down the 17-year U.S. war in Afghanistan.

In the past, Khalilzad has tried to pressure the Taliban to hold direct talks with the government of Afghanistan, which the Taliban considers a U.S. puppet.

Earlier on February 26, the Afghan government said that nine members of a government-back militia had been mistakenly killed in an air strike in the eastern province of Ghazni.