KABUL: A Taliban delegation has met with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar to discuss ending the Afghan conflict, the militant group said Saturday, in the first official confirmation of talks between the two sides.
The landmark meeting was held as Khalilzad seeks to coordinate efforts with regional countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
The meeting with Khalilzad and other American officials took place in Doha on Friday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement sent to journalists.
The Taliban had reportedly met with US officials in July after an unprecedented ceasefire in June, which fuelled hopes that talks could bring an end to fighting after 17 years.
That meeting was not confirmed on the record by either side, but there has been widespread speculation since then that more talks were planned.
A wave of attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State group in recent months, however, has poured cold water on the nascent optimism for peace.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the Taliban statement.
During the latest meeting, Taliban and US negotiators discussed a “peaceful end to the invasion in Afghanistan”, Mujahid said.
A US-led intervention in 2001 toppled the Taliban regime.
But the group made clear that the presence of foreign forces in the country was a “big obstacle” to peace.
Both sides “agreed to continue such meetings”, he added, without providing further details.
The statement was issued as Khalilzad returned to Kabul after a regional trip that began with his first visit to Afghanistan since his appointment last month as US envoy.
On Monday, he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other senior leaders in Kabul.
On the same day, the Taliban issued a statement vowing to target government security forces in upcoming parliamentary elections, which the United States is helping to finance.
Afghan-born Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the United Nations, was appointed to steer peace efforts with the Taliban last month.
Fluent in Pashto and Dari, Khalilzad’s experience as a foreign policy operative in the country dates back to the 1980s, when he served as an adviser to the Reagan administration.
He is known as a blunt negotiator with hawkish foreign policy views. —AFP