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Afghan army frees civilians from Taliban clutch, 4 militants arrested

11 February 2019

Negotiations that would lead to a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan continue to advance, but are a long way from completion, the top U.S. envoy to U.S. -Taliban peace talks said Friday.

He described the present state of negotiations as having taken two or three steps on a long journey.

USA peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held six days of talks - perhaps the most productive to date - with the Taliban in Doha last month and is due to meet Taliban representatives again on February 25.

If the Taliban were to hold talks with the Kabul government, it would mean that they had "accepted this stooge regime as a legitimate government (even though it was) imposed upon us by aircraft and (the) bombing of invaders", he said.

The Pakistani assistance, which has not been reported in such detail before, also includes exerting pressure on Taliban leaders who fail to cooperate, including by detaining members of the militants' families, the insurgents say.

USA troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 7, 2018. Karzai also dismissed United States claims about providing security for Afghanistan.

The U.S. Special representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Khalilzad has said that he is hopeful to finalize a peace deal with the Taliban group before presidential elections in Afghanistan.

But he also admitted that the "elections make the peace agreement more complicated".

The Afghan Taliban has said that despite the ongoing talks with the USA and other regional powers, it had "not yet reached" any conclusion that would entail an immediate end to hostilities against America and its allies, according to a media report.

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In recent months, President Donald Trump has suggested withdrawing almost half of the American forces in Afghanistan, but US officials have said he has thus far resisted that urge, largely in an effort to back Khalilzad's negotiations.

But the message that they have given me is that they understand that they can not go back. "The Afghans must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about the future of their country", he said.

In his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Trump said the time has come "to at least try for peace".

Well-placed sources said the U.S. administration has taken the final decision to pull out of Afghanistan and are willing to go ahead keeping in view the significance of Pakistan's role.

He said that they had eventually even opened a political office in Doha, Qatar in 2013 for this goal, but Washington had been unwilling to negotiate at the time.

Noting that Mullah Baradar, now based in Doha, was already facilitating the US-Taliban talks, the US envoy said that his role had also been recognised by former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and his successor President Ashraf Ghani.

"But we don't have to wait until then for regional players to play a positive role".

Trump has repeatedly spoken about the need for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, where it has been bogged down in a conflict with the Taliban and other groups since late 2001.

Afghan army frees civilians from Taliban clutch, 4 militants arrested