A refutes Taliban claims regarding troops pullout plan

Geraldine Edwards
February 9, 2019

In addition to a Taliban delegation, it was also attended by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as other high-profile opposition figures.

"Great nations do not fight endless wars", Trump said in his annual State of the Union address to Congress, in which he also said us troops had almost defeated Islamic State militants in Syria and it was time to bring them home.

Ghani spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Tuesday, who had "underscored the central importance of ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process", the president said.

The discussions in Moscow came two weeks after Taliban and American diplomats announced significant progress in six days of negotiations in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain an office.

No representative from President Ashraf Ghani's government - which the Taliban considers a U.S. puppet - was invited to either occasion, angering officials in Kabul.

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In an interview to Tolo News before the Moscow talks, President Ghani said the Afghan politicians participating in Moscow talks lack "negotiating authority".

President Donald Trump in his State of the Union speech Tuesday hinted at a possible USA military drawdown, saying his administration has accelerated negotiations with the Taliban to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan. Put another way, despite the War on Afghanistan being a total military failure for the US, India wants Americans to continue dying for them in order to advance their country's regional interests. But the Afghan leader has lost that luxury in recent months as he has openly opposed the outcome of US-Taliban talks, led by US special envoy Zalmai Khalilzad.

Earlier Wednesday, a senior Taliban official told reporters the US had agreed to withdraw half its ground troops by the end of April - a claim refuted by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the US State Department. "I wish the best for him", Ghani said.

"Thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a possible political solution to this long and bloody conflict", Trump said.

Colonel David Butler, a spokesman for the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan has the rejected the Taliban claims, saying "Our mission hasn't changed".

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The gathering has been criticized by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

"The atmosphere of the talks (on the first day) was very constructive", said Mohammad Mohaqiq, the second deputy of CEO Abdullah Abdullah.

A USA official at last month's meeting said significant progress was made, though more talks were needed on United States demands for a Taliban ceasefire before any withdrawal and other issues. Hope for peace coexists with the fear that the U.S. will leave as carelessly as it boosted intervention in 2017, when civilian deaths surged due to increased air strikes.

The meeting that kicked off in the Russian capital on Tuesday has been seen as another step in a process aimed at resolving Afghanistan's 17-year war, one that has accelerated since the appointment of USA peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad last year.

"When Mr. Karzai returns from Moscow we will see what he has brought". Yet 17 years on, the Taliban control or hold sway in roughly 50 percent of the country and carry out near daily attacks, mostly targeting the country's beleaguered security forces. A more involved role for Moscow has surprised many, mostly due to Russia's bloody history in Afghanistan (when it was the Soviet Union) during its occupation of the country from 1979 to 1989.

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At least 28 security personnel have been killed and 20 others wounded in a Taliban attack in northern Kunduz province, an official said on Tuesday. They now claim that they do not want a monopoly on power, but merely an "inclusive Islamic system".

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