After three days of talks, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad left Doha, Qatar on a pre-scheduled trip to New Delhi hailing “excellent progress” made in talks with the Taliban.
A Taliban official told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the two sides have resolved differences in peace talks over U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In New Zealand, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on August 6, “We now see a real chance for peace in Afghanistan; we are closer to a peace deal than ever before.”
Meanwhile, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) civilian casualties hit a record high in July. Escalating violence, UNAMA said, led to the highest rate of civilian casualties (deaths and injuries) since May 2017 — upward of 1,500 in July alone.
“UNAMA documented an increase through July in the number of disproportionate and indiscriminate Taliban attacks in urban areas against Afghan military and security objects and personnel,” the UN mission said in a statement. The UN mission said the rise in civilian casualties was driven by anti-government elements, including the Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), but that there remained “concerning levels” of casualties caused by pro-government forces.
The Taliban have kept up a near-daily rate of deadly attacks, despite holding several rounds of peace talks with Khalilzad since his appointment almost a year ago.
Technical teams will continue negotiations in Doha this week with the two sides looking toward an agreement by September 1. Much of the negotiating has focused on a small set of priorities: a withdrawal of U.S. troops and a pledge from the Taliban to not provide safe haven to terrorist groups, to be followed by a ceasefire and intra-Afghan peace talks.
As the Washington Post reported last week, the agreement under discussion would trade a U.S. troop withdrawal for the Taliban entering negotiations with the Afghan government. To date, the Taliban have refused to negotiate directly with the government of Ashraf Ghani, calling it a “puppet” of the Americans. Of the over 20,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan, roughly 14,000 are from the United States, the remainder from other NATO countries. The agreement, officials say, would cut U.S. troop levels to between 8,000 and 9,000. It’s important to note that such a move would bring troop levels back to where they were when Donald Trump assumed the presidency.
The Taliban now control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since 2001, when the U.S.-led invasion toppled their government that had harbored al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Afghanistan’s thrice-delayed presidential election — originally scheduled for April 20, then pushed to July 20 — is now set for September 28. The Taliban has called the election a “sham,” urged Afghans to boycott the polls, and warned that those attending rallies “could become potential targets.”
With reporting from the Associated Press’ Cara Anna and Kathy Gannon.