US commander meets Taliban leaders as Afghan peace process slows down

Gen. Austin Scott Miller, commander of US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, the Resolute Support, has reportedly held meeting with the group’s political delegation in Doha, capital of Qatar, days after the Taliban officials pulled out of talks over a prisoner swap with the Afghan government.

The meeting between top US commander and the Taliban came as the US tries to pull its troops out of the country and the Taliban try to sign a power sharing deal with the Afghan government.       

Spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said in a tweet posted yesterday, April 11, that the two sides have discussed “implementation” and “violations” of the US-Taliban agreement signed on February 29. According to Mr. Shaheen, the meeting was held in the evening of last Friday, April 10, and that the group has called for halt to “attacks and night raids” in what he described as “non-combatant areas.”

Meanwhile, spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Sonyy Legget, has told TOLOnews that the meeting was held to discuss “the need to reduce the violence”, adding that it was part of the military channel established in US-Taliban peace deal.

A week earlier, the Taliban accused US of violating the agreement that was struck after over a year-long negotiations between the US representatives led by the country’s special peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban negotiators led by the group’s deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. It was immediately rejected by the US forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A). “USFOR-A has upheld, and continues to uphold, the military terms of the U.S.-TB agreement; any assertion otherwise is baseless. USFOR-A has been clear- we will defend our ANDSF partners if attacked, in compliance with the agreement,” said Mr. Sonny Legget in a tweet.

Last week, the Taliban accused the Afghan government of violating the agreement and the group threatened to walk out of talks.   “Prisoners of the Islamic Emirate should have been released long before as per the signed agreement,” Shaheen said in a tweet on April 07.

Though the government released 200 Taliban prisoners last Wednesday and Thursday after the Taliban walked out of the process, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, said on Friday, April 10, that the Afghan government has released “unknown prisoners”. Accusing the government of seeking “pretexts” to make barriers against work of the Taliban technical team to verify the group’s prisoners, he warned that it could face the peace process, particularly the intra-Afghan talks, with barriers.

The recent development comes while violence has increased between the Afghan defense and security forces and the Taliban militants across the country. In latest confrontation between the two sides, 27 Taliban have been killed and nine others wounded last Friday in the northeastern Badakhshan province, according to the Ministry of Defense. The Taliban, however, have said that civilian residential areas were bombarded by the Afghan security forces that killed and wounded six civilians.