United States and Taliban negotiators have wrapped up their sixth round of peace talks with “some progress” made on a draft agreement for when foreign troops might withdraw from Afghanistan, a spokesperson for the armed group has said.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban‘s political spokesman in the Qatari capital, Doha, said in a tweet on Thursday that “positive and constructive” negotiations were held during the talks, adding that both sides would meet again for another round of discussions.
“Both sides listened to each other with care and patience,” Shaheen said.
The US embassy in Kabul did not immediately comment, nor did US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born former US ambassador to Afghanistan who is leading negotiations on behalf of Washington.
Shaheen’s comments came after he told the AFP news agency on Sunday that negotiations were stumbling over the fundamental question of when foreign forces would depart Afghanistan.
Negotiations stutter over troop withdrawal
About 17,000 foreign troops, including a contingent of some 14,000 US soldiers, are based in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some US forces also carry out “counterterrorism” operations.
The US has said it will not agree to any withdrawal of troops as part of an eventual peace deal until the Taliban put in place security guarantees, implement a ceasefire and sign off on other commitments including an “intra-Afghan” dialogue with the Kabul government and other Afghan representatives.
But the Taliban insists it will not do any of these things until the US announces a withdrawal timeline, meanwhile, it refuses to negotiate with Kabul, calling the Afghan government a “puppet” of the West.
Diplomatic efforts to end the US’s longest-running conflict intensified last year after the appointment of the Afghan-born Khalilzad to lead direct talks with the Taliban, which has been running an armed rebellion since it was dislodged from power in 2001 during a US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
During the latest round of talks, which came nearly two months after an earlier bout of 16-day long discussions, violent attacks in Afghanistan continued.
At the end of a large peace summit in Kabul last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban a ceasefire to begin on the first day of Ramadan, but the group refused.
On Wednesday, a Taliban suicide bomber and four gunmen attacked the Kabul office of Counterpart International, a non-profit group working with marginalised people in Afghanistan, killing nine people and wounding at least 20 others.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday condemned the attack as a “senseless assault”.
“We extend our condolences to the families of the deceased and our wishes for a fast recovery to those wounded, and call again for the Taliban to stop attacking civilians intentionally,” he said in a statement.