Afghan Taliban: No date yet for U.S. troops drawdown
CGTN

A Taliban official said on Wednesday that no timetable had been agreed with the U.S. government for the partial withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan and that negotiations were still underway.

Earlier, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency had quoted a Taliban official at peace talks in Moscow as saying that Washington had promised to pull out half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April.

Participants attend the opening of the two-day talks of the Taliban and Afghan opposition representatives at the President Hotel in Moscow, February 5, 2019. /VCG Photo‍

Participants attend the opening of the two-day talks of the Taliban and Afghan opposition representatives at the President Hotel in Moscow, February 5, 2019. /VCG Photo‍

But that report was contradicted at the end of the talks in Moscow, with the Taliban official previously quoted by RIA, Abdul Salam Hanafi, denying that he had made the comment.

He said there was no detailed agreement with the U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad who has been meeting separately with Taliban negotiators. “Until now we did not agree,” the Taliban official said.

On an April withdrawal, he said: “It's our desire. It is our demand... Our demand is withdrawing of foreign forces as soon as possible.”

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, among the Afghan opposition politicians attending the talks, said the principal issue under discussion was that Afghanistan should be free of foreign forces.

Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai attends the VII Moscow Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2018. /VCG Photo

Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai attends the VII Moscow Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2018. /VCG Photo

He said there was a near-consensus in the talks on this subject. “It was very satisfactory,” said Karzai.

Afghanistan's government was absent from the talks, because the Taliban does not recognize its legitimacy and refuses to sit down with it at the negotiating table. The government in Kabul said the talks were not in Afghanistan's best interest.

But the presence of prominent opposition politicians will add to pressure on the government to talk to the Taliban in the search for a deal to end years of fighting.

 U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 7, 2018. /VCG Photo

 U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 7, 2018. /VCG Photo

The push for peace comes as the Taliban, ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, have staged near daily attacks and are in control of or contesting districts across nearly half the country.

The venue of the talks indicates an expanding role in Afghanistan for Moscow. It was embroiled in the conflict there in the 1980s after sending in the Red Army, but has since allowed Washington to take the lead role.

That may now change after U.S. President Donald Trump said he wanted to eventually pull American troops out of the country and end nearly two decades of U.S. military involvement there.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Tuesday.

The Deputy Spokesman at the State Department Robert Palladino's Twitter sceenshot. /CGTN Photo 

The Deputy Spokesman at the State Department Robert Palladino's Twitter sceenshot. /CGTN Photo 

Robert Palladino, the deputy spokesman at the State Department, said Pompeo reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to achieving a lasting peace. 

Pompeo during the talk also emphasized the importance of an intra-Afghan dialogue and the role of a cease-fire in ending the violence and making it possible for the Afghan government, other Afghan leaders and the Taliban to negotiate a political settlement, Palladino said.

Ghani tweeted that Pompeo "stressed that our military partnership is unwavering and will remain until a lasting and inclusive peace is achieved."

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani's twitter screenshot. /VCG Photo

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani's twitter screenshot. /VCG Photo

Trump said on Tuesday his administration had accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan and would be able to reduce U.S. troops there as negotiations advanced to end America's longest war.

(With inputs from Reuters)