U.S. and Taliban to hold first talks since Afghanistan withdrawal

Senior Taliban officials and U.S. representatives are to hold talks Saturday and Sunday about containing extremist groups in Afghanistan and easing the evacuation of foreign citizens and Afghans from the country, officials from both sides said.

It’s the first such meeting since U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan in late August, ending a 20-year military presence there, and the Taliban’s rise to power in the nation. The talks are to take 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 the talks will also revisit the peace agreement the Taliban signed with Washington in 2020. The agreement had paved the way for the final U..S. withdrawal.

“Yes there is a meeting . . . about bilateral relations and implementation of the Doha agreement,” said Shaheen. “It covers various topics.”

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

Since the Taliban took power, Islamic State extremists have ramped up attacks on the militant group, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. On Friday, an IS suicide bomber killed at least 46 minority Shiite Muslims and wounded dozens in the deadliest attack since the U.S. departure.

IS has carried out relentless assaults on the country’s Shiite Muslims since emerging in eastern Afghanistan in 2014. IS is also seen as the greatest threat to the United States.

The U.S.-Taliban agreement of 2020, which was negotiated by the Trump administration, demanded the Taliban break ties with terrorist groups and guarantee Afghanistan would not again harbor terrorists who could attack the United States and its allies.

It seems certain the two sides will discuss in the weekend talks how to tackle the growing threat. The Taliban have said they do not want U.S. anti-terrorism assistance and have warned Washington against any so-called “over-the -horizon” strikes on Afghan territory from outside the country’s borders.

The United States, meanwhile, would seek to hold Taliban leaders to commitments that they would allow Americans and other foreign nationals to leave Afghanistan, along with Afghans who once worked for the U.S. military or government and other Afghan allies, a U.S. official said.

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