No deal announced as U.S., Taliban wrap up latest talks

Kathy Gannon and Cara Anna
Associated Press

Kabul, Afghanistan – The latest round of talks between the Taliban and the United States ended early Monday without any sign a peace deal had been reached for Afghanistan, as both sides said they would consult with their leaderships on the next steps.

A Taliban spokesman had said last week that this eighth round of talks would conclude with a deal to end the nearly 18-year war, America’s longest. The two sides have been discussing an agreement under which U.S. forces would withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban would guarantee the country would not revert to being a launch pad for global terrorist attacks.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the talks that began on Aug. 3 in the Gulf nation of Qatar were “productive” and that he was heading to Washington for consultations. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called the discussions “long and useful.” Neither provided details on their outcome.

Afghan women attends an election campaign rally by Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019.

The Taliban have continued to stage near-daily attacks across Afghanistan despite the months of negotiations with the U.S. The attacks mainly target Afghan forces and government officials but also kill many civilians .

The U.S. has pressed for a cease-fire and a framework for inter-Afghan talks, but so far the insurgents have refused to recognize the Afghan government, dismissing it as a U.S. puppet.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, frustrated at being sidelined, on Sunday rejected foreign interference in Afghan affairs.

He insists that elections planned for Sept. 28 will give the next government a powerful mandate to decide the country’s future. But Khalilzad is seeking a peace deal by Sept. 1, weeks before the vote. The Taliban, who effectively control half the country, have dismissed the election as a sham and warned fellow Afghans to avoid both campaign rallies and the polls.

The Taliban are at their strongest since the U.S.-led invasion toppled their five-year government in 2001 after the group had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. More than 2,400 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan since then. The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014, but around 20,000 American and allied troops remain in the country.

Khalilzad tweeted Sunday that he hoped this would be the last Eid al-Adha in which Afghanistan is at war, referring to the Muslim holiday that began over the weekend. The Taliban’s holiday message expressed the hope that future Eids would unfold “without occupation, under an environment of permanent peace and unity.”