Afghan Taliban, U.S. to sit down to peace talks on Wednesday: sources

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan Taliban representatives and U.S. officials will sit down to two days of peace talks on Wednesday in Qatar but Afghan government officials will not be involved, senior Taliban members said.

The Taliban have rejected numerous requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to take part in the talks, insisting that the United States is their main adversary in the 17-year war and that Kabul is a “puppet” regime.

The insurgents, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster by U.S.-led troops, called off their meeting with the U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia this week because of Riyadh’s insistence on bringing the Western-backed Afghan government to the table.

The talks will be the fourth in a series between Taliban leaders and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

“After mutual consultations, we are going to meet U.S. officials in Doha on Wednesday. The meeting will continue for two days – Wednesday and Thursday,” said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban on condition of anonymity.

Pakistani and Iranian officials said they were trying to persuade the Taliban to meet Afghan officials.

Another senior Taliban leader confirmed the Qatar meeting and said no other country would be involved.

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took part in the last round of talks in December.

“This time we want to hold talks with the American officials,” said a Taliban leader based in Afghanistan, adding that they would discuss a U.S. withdrawal, prisoner exchange and the lifting of a ban on movement of their leaders.

The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly a trillion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people.

The United States, which sent troops to Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and at the peak of the deployment had more than 100,000 troops in the country, withdrew most of its forces in 2014, but still keeps around 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission aiding Afghan security forces and hunting militants.

Reports last month about U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan triggered uncertainty in Kabul which depends on the United States and other foreign powers for military support and training.

The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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