Members of a Taliban delegation take their seats during November peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow [Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters]
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Monday all foreign forces will eventually leave the war-torn country – a key Taliban demand – as talks with the armed group progressed.
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Ghani said based on an international agreement, foreign troops will not be required in the future.
“No Afghans want foreign forces in their country for the long term,” Ghani said in a televised address.
“The current presence of foreign forces is based on need, and this need has always been contemplated and will be contemplated… And according to an exact and arranged plan, we are trying to bring down that number to zero,” he said.
The president’s comments came as both US and Taliban officials hailed progress after six days of talks in Qatar ended on Saturday.
A senior US government official told Reuters news agency on Monday that Washington was committed to the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan after 17 years of war.
The official, who declined to be identified, described “significant progress” in discussions last week with Afghan Taliban leaders in Qatar on a foreign troop pullout, but more negotiations were needed on a ceasefire and its timing.
‘Significant progress’ made in US-Taliban talks in Qatar
“Of course we don’t seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan,” the official said in the capital Kabul.
“Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post peace government. We would like to leave a good legacy.”
There could not be a withdrawal without a ceasefire, the official added.
The US peace envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, shared details of his latest round of talks with the Taliban in Qatar with the Afghan president and other government officials in Kabul, a statement from the president’s office said Monday.
It said Khalilzad noted he discussed a ceasefire deal with the Taliban but there was no progress so far on the issue. Khalilzad did not confirm the statement and there was no immediate comment from the US Embassy.
Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban official and currently a member of the High Peace Council, an independent body of clerics and respected Afghan figures, said he believes the Qatar talks resulted in a “good understanding between both sides” but more discussions are needed in the coming weeks or months.
“Afghanistan’s problem is not so simple that it can be solved in a day, week or month, it needs more time and more discussions,” Mujahid told The Associated Press. “What is clear right now he said is that the US is fed up with the war in Afghanistan and wants an end to it.”
The Taliban have been staging near-daily attacks targeting Afghan forces, causing scores of casualties every week. Their offensive has not let up despite the severe Afghan winter and the Taliban now holding sway over nearly half of the country.
That has made peace an even more pressing issue. Khalilzad met with the Taliban on a number of occasions in recent months – most recently last week in Qatar where the Taliban have a political office – in the latest bid to end the United States’ longest war.
The US invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks to topple the Taliban, which was harbouring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda fighters, who stand accused of carrying out assault with hijacked airliners that killed about 3,000 people.