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US peace envoy heads to Qatar, Afghanistan for new talks

Zalmay Khalilzad at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

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

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is heading to Qatar to resume talks with Taliban negotiators and to Kabul to meet with Afghan leaders, amid reports indicating a deal could be close to end the near 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The U.S. State Department said Khalilzad was departing on August 20 for the two countries and that additional stops could be included in his trip.

In the Qatari capital, Doha, Khalilzad “will resume talks with the Taliban as part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that ends the conflict in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

“In Kabul, he will consult with the leadership of the Afghan government on the peace process and encourage full preparation for intra-Afghan negotiations,” it added.

Khalilzad has conducted eight rounds of talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar, where the extremist group has an office.

After the latest round, both sides said great progress had been made toward a bilateral U.S.-Taliban agreement that would cover the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for guarantees by the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups.

Such a deal would be followed by intra-Afghan peace negotiations on a political settlement and a permanent cease-fire.

U.S. officials have been attempting to bring the Taliban into direct contact with the Afghan government. The extremist group has said it will only negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul when Washington commits to withdrawing its forces.

About 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, mainly training and advising government forces.

Even as talks appear to be advancing, Afghanistan continues to be the victim of extremist-led violence and bloodshed.

More than 32,000 civilians in Afghanistan have been killed in the past decade, the United Nations said earlier this year as the government struggles to battle Taliban, Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other militant groups.