KABUL: The US is seeking a peace deal that can pave the way for the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, Washington’s special envoy said hours before the resumption of major talks with the Taliban on Saturday.
“We are pursuing a #peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement; a peace agreement that enables withdrawal,” Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted.
“Our presence in #Afghanistan is condition based and any withdrawal will be condition based.”
There have been conflicting comments and reports in the US media about the fate of American troops in Afghanistan.
One report said US President Donald Trump’s administration “is preparing to withdraw thousands of troops in exchange for concessions from the Taliban, including a cease-fire and a renunciation of Al-Qaeda, as part of an initial deal to end the nearly 18-year-old war.”
While Taliban delegates have held a series of talks with Khalilzad and other American diplomats since last year, both the insurgents and Afghan troops — backed by US forces — have escalated their attacks to gain the upper hand at the talks.
The UN has reported a subsequent rise in civilian casualties. On Saturday, it reminded “all parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect civilians and to comply with their obligations under international law.”
The Taliban has long insisted on a total withdrawal of US troops, and that it will engage in talks with the Afghan government after a timetable is set for the pullout.
US officials said an agreement could be finalized ahead of Afghan presidential elections in September, though they cautioned that the Taliban could drag its feet and that significant challenges remain, the Washington Post reported.
An Afghan official speaking on condition of anonymity said Washington had assured Kabul that the US military presence was condition-based.
Some American officials have said Washington seeks to keep a counterinsurgency intelligence force in Afghanistan even if a total troop pullout takes place.
Ahmad Saeedi, a university professor and former diplomat, told Arab News that in return for a US troop withdrawal, “the Taliban is required to commit that Afghanistan won’t become a nest for terrorists again.”
He said: “But there are ambiguities in the comments of US officials … The generals have different views than the politicians, and this has complicated the situation.”
Writer and journalist Zubair Shafiqi said: “The Taliban should be aware that the US doesn’t want to abandon Afghanistan until its interests are achieved.”