Taliban: Half of U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1

Saul Bowman
February 9, 2019

Even as the USA has pursued diplomacy with the Taliban vis-à-vis the Qataris, Russia has been conducting its own diplomatic overtures, putting together a diplomatic conference in Moscow in November 2018 that brought together members of the Afghan government's High Peace Council, as well as Taliban delegates, and representatives from regional power brokers, including Islamabad, Tehran and Beijing. Pompeo also emphasised the importance of an intra-Afghan dialogue and the inclusion of the Afghan government in peace talks with the Taliban, according to Palladino.

In his testimony, General Votel said that Pakistan has taken positive steps to assist Special US Representative of Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in support of Afghanistan reconciliation by facilitating talks with the Taliban.

"We are exchanging our views".

Ghani's representatives were not welcomed by the Taliban to Qatar, where the insurgents held talks with United States representatives for six days in January alone.

In an interview to Tolo News before the Moscow talks, President Ghani said the Afghan politicians participating in Moscow talks lack "negotiating authority". Where is their executive power?

Serenko also said Moscow used this week's conference to legitimize its long-held ties with the Taliban, which Russian Federation still designates as a terrorist group.

The Taliban claimed Wednesday that the United States agreed in Doha to withdraw half its ground troops by the end of April - and the process had begun.

Among those who participated in the talks included Karzai, presidential candidate Hanif Atmar, former Balkh governor Ata Mohammad Noor, leader of Hezb e Wahdat Mohammad Mohaqeq, besides others.

The Taliban routinely exaggerates its attacks and details of other engagements, and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Afghan officials deny the claims.

Karzai said the main issue under discussion in Moscow was that Afghanistan should be free of foreign forces, adding that there was a near consensus on this matter.

"They arrived there late, fought back and managed to get the checkpoint under control of the check point, " he added. Yet the words which follow are anything but reassuring, warning that "immorality, indecency and circulation of non-Islamic culture" have been imposed on Afghan society "under the name of women [sic] rights".

The Moscow conference was the Taliban's most significant engagement with Afghan leaders in years. "Those who can not learn from history are doomed to repeat it", he wrote. "Because they (delegates) follow their personal interests", said Faridon Frotan, a Kabul resident.

As for developments in the recent talks, the head of the Taliban delegation has hinted at a softening in the Taliban's positions on women's rights, but at the same time, rejected the Afghan constitution outright. The talks were hailed as "groundbreaking".

The two sides said in a joint statement quoted by Afghan broadcaster Tolo News that they agreed to meet again in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where the Taliban has a semiofficial office. "And we will indeed focus on counter-terrorism", Trump said in his annual State of the Union address to Congress.

Mr Stanikzai has overseen a series of meetings with the U.S. special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, in recent months.

Despite the talks in Moscow, and a further round of US-Taliban discussions being scheduled for 25 February, violence in Afghanistan continues. He did not mention the Afghans who have died (24,000 civilians since 2009, and 45,000 members of the security forces in the last five years), let alone the nation's broader suffering in the world's deadliest conflict.

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