US and Taliban hold first talks since Afghanistan withdrawal

Officials say senior Taliban members and US representatives should hold talks about containing extremist groups in Afghanistan and facilitating the evacuation of foreign citizens and Afghans from the country

It is the first such gathering since US forces withdrew from Afghanistan in late August, ending a 20-year military presence there and the rise of the Taliban in the country. The talks are taking place in Doha, the capital of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is based in Doha, told The Associated Press on Saturday that talks will also return to the peace agreement the Taliban signed with Washington in 2020. recording.

“Yes, there is a meeting. . . on bilateral relations and the implementation of the Doha Agreement,” said Shaheen. “It’s about different topics.”

Terrorism will also be addressed in the talks, said a second official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Since the Taliban came to power, Islamic State extremists have stepped up attacks on the militant group, as well as on ethnic and religious minorities. An IS suicide bomber killed at least 46 minority Shia minorities on Friday and injured dozens in the deadliest attack since the US left.

IS has carried out relentless attacks on Shia Muslims since its rise in eastern Afghanistan in 2014. IS is also seen as the biggest threat to the United States.

The 2020 US-Taliban agreement, negotiated by the Trump administration, demanded that the Taliban cut ties with terrorist groups and that Afghanistan should not once again harbor terrorists who could attack the United States and its allies.

It seems certain that the two sides will discuss how to deal with the growing threat during the weekend talks. The Taliban have said they don’t want US counter-terrorism aid and have warned Washington about so-called “over-the-horizon” attacks on Afghan territory from outside its borders.

The United States, meanwhile, would try to hold Taliban leaders to promises that they would allow Americans and other foreigners to leave Afghanistan, along with Afghans who once worked for the US military or government and other Afghan allies, a US official said. .

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the person was not allowed to speak by name about the meetings.

The Biden administration has filed questions and complaints about the slow pace of US-facilitated evacuations from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan since the US withdrawal.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that 105 U.S. citizens and 95 green card holders have since departed on U.S.-facilitated flights. That number hadn’t changed in over a week.

American veterans and other individuals have helped others get out of the country on charter flights, and some Americans and others have crossed land borders.

Hundreds of other foreigners and Afghans have also left on recent flights.

According to the State Department, dozens of US citizens are still trying to get away, along with thousands of green card holders and Afghans and relatives eligible for US visas. US officials have cited the difficulty of verifying flight manifests without US officials being on the ground in Afghanistan to assist, along with other robberies.

Americans also plan to put pressure on the Taliban to respect the rights of women and girls, many of whom are reportedly blocking the return to jobs and classrooms, and of Afghans in general, and for an inclusive government. to form, the official said.

US officials will also encourage Taliban officials to allow humanitarian organizations free access to areas in need amid the economic turmoil following the US departure and takeover by the Taliban.

The official stressed that the session did not imply that the US recognized the Taliban as legitimate governors of the country.

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Knickmeyer reported from Washington.

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