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US, Taliban push for deal at Doha talks

DOHA — US and Taliban negotiators held talks in Doha on Monday as potentially decisive dialogue to enable Washington to drawdown its deployment to Afghanistan stretched into the night.

The fourth day of the ninth round of dialogue, which continued until after 2030 GMT, saw Taliban and US representatives shuttling between the two sides’ negotiating teams clutching papers, an AFP correspondent said.

The insurgent group had earlier said that it was finalising technical points of an agreement with Washington at the talks being held in an up-market members’ club to end 18 years of war.

“We will defend Afghan forces now and after any agreement with the Talibs,” the US Chief Negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted on Monday in response to suggestions a deal might not apply to the insurgents’ fight against the US-backed Afghan government.

He also tweeted that all sides in the negotiations had agreed “Afghanistan’s future will be determined in intra-Afghan negotiations”.

The four pillars of any deal are expected to be foreign troop withdrawal, a ceasefire, counterterror guarantees, and intra-Afghan dialogue. 

Any agreement would be announced before the media as well as representatives from neighbouring countries and China, Russia, and the United Nations, the Taliban has said. 

The Taliban’s spokesman in Doha Suhail Shaheen tweeted that the foes would reconvene talks at 07:00 GMT on Tuesday to “try to finalise the final points of the agreement”.

The United States, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban from power in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, wants to withdraw thousands of troops but only in return for the group renouncing Al Qaeda and curbing attacks.

Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and US presidential polls next year.

The Doha talks are being held against a backdrop of persistent violence in Afghanistan.

The Taliban claimed on Saturday to have killed seven members of the US military in an attack on a convoy near Bagram airfield north of Kabul. American officials dismissed the claims as “lies”.

On Wednesday, two US soldiers were killed by small arms fire in Faryab province in northern Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.

Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman, had said the deaths should have a “positive” impact on the talks in Doha.

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