Ayaz Gul – Voice of America
ISLAMABAD - The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has met with leaders of the Taliban insurgency under their bilateral peace-building agreement to discuss ways to reduce violence in the war-torn country, both sides said Saturday.
A Taliban spokesman tweeted about the meeting with General Scott Miller, who also commands NATO’s non-combat Resolution Support mission in the country, saying it happened Friday night in Doha, Qatar, which hosts the insurgent political office.
Suhail Shaheen wrote that the two delegations discussed details on how to implement the U.S.-Taliban agreement, which the two adversaries signed Feb. 29 in the Qatari capital with a goal to end the nearly 19-year-old Afghan war.
"General Miller met with Taliban leadership last night as part of the military channel established in the agreement. The meeting was about the need to reduce the violence," a U.S. Forces spokesman told VOA.
Shaheen said the U.S.-Taliban agreement’s “violations, particularly attacks and night raids in non-combat areas, came under serious discussion.” He added that the Taliban delegation “called for a halt to such attacks.”
In a recent statement, the U.S. military denied insurgent allegations of breaches, noting the agreement allows foreign troops to act in defense of Afghan security forces if attacked by the Taliban.
The accord binds insurgents not to attack U.S.-led foreign forces, who have committed to gradually withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021, in return for Taliban counterterrorism guarantees.
The “conditions-based” troop drawdown also requires the Taliban to negotiate a sustainable peace and power sharing with other Afghan factions to end four decades of hostilities in the country.
The Taliban and Washington both have said they are fully committed to uphold the agreement, which offers the best chance for Afghan peace, analysts say.
But a lingering political dispute over who has emerged as the legitimate president of Afghanistan following the controversial September election, and a delay in releasing thousands of Taliban prisoners by the Kabul government, have blocked efforts to open the crucial peace talks between Afghan parties to the conflict.
Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani has been officially declared the election winner, but his chief rival Abdullah Abdullah rejected the outcome as fraudulent, and both held competing inauguration ceremonies last month.
The standoff has politically paralyzed the turmoil-hit country, with both the rival leaders seemingly not ready to give up their claims.
Under the U.S.-Taliban deal, the intra-Afghan talks were supposed to begin several weeks ago.
The insurgent group maintains those negotiations can start only after Washington, as part of its commitments, helps to get the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners from Afghan jails.
The Taliban has committed to free 1,000 detainees, mostly Afghan security forces, from its custody. Discussions over the prisoner swap collapsed earlier this week, although the Afghan government has since freed 200 Taliban detainees after seeking written assurances the freed men would not return to the battlefield.
But the Taliban has disapproved the release process, saying it violates provisions of the deal with the U.S., which requires unconditional freedom for insurgent inmates.