KABUL/DOHA • Washington is hoping for a breakthrough as talks between the US and the Taleban resumed in Doha yesterday in a bid to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan.
The United States, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taleban in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops, but only in return for the group renouncing Al-Qaeda and curbing attacks.
Washington is hoping to strike a peace deal with the Taleban by Sept 1 - ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and US presidential polls next year.
US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House last Friday that "we've made a lot of progress. We're talking".
A coalition led by Washington ousted the Taleban, accusing it of harbouring Al-Qaeda militants who claimed the Sept 11, 2001, attacks against the US that killed almost 3,000 people.
"We are pursuing a peace agreement not a withdrawal agreement, a peace agreement that enables withdrawal," US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted last Friday as he arrived in Doha.
In another sign of progress, the Afghan government has formed a negotiating team for separate peace talks with the Taleban, which diplomats hope could be held later this month.
The Washington Post reported last Thursday that an initial deal to end the war would see the US force in Afghanistan reduced to as low as 8,000, from the current level of around 14,000. In exchange, the Taleban would abide by a ceasefire and renounce Al-Qaeda, the Post reported, citing US officials.
The proposed agreement would also require the Taleban to broker a separate peace deal with the Afghan government, with which it has so far refused to speak, Fox News reported.
Apparently believing it has the upper hand in the war, the Taleban has kept up attacks even while talking to the US and agreeing to the Afghan dialogue.
The United Nations said yesterday that civilian casualty rates across Afghanistan jumped back to record levels last month, following a dip earlier in the year.
More than 1,500 civilians were killed or wounded in the conflict last month, the highest monthly toll so far this year and the deadliest single month since May 2017.