Four US troops killed in Afghan militant attack ahead of peace talks with Taliban
US officials are set to meet with Taliban representatives in Qatar, to kick off peace talks. Four US troops have been killed just hours after the US called on the Taliban to renounce violence, dropping a condemnation of Al-Qaeda as a precondition.
The new talks were authorized by Taliban leader Mohammed Omar and will begin in the Qatari capital on Thursday, a Reuters cites US officials as saying. Senior officials from the US State Department and White House are expected to meet with a Taliban delegation.
The meeting will take place after Washington dropped its long-standing demand that Taliban leaders renounce al-Qaeda as a precondition for negotiations, according to the Telegraph. Obama administration officials stressed that the main goal of the preliminary discussions would be to convince the Taliban to recognize the Afghan Constitution and to stop the insurgency against the Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Four US soldiers were killed just hours after the announcement
that peace talks were imminent. The Americans were hit by
“indirect fire,” US officials said, from insurgents at
Bagram air base, located not far from Kabul, the location of the
largest US military base in Afghanistan. On Tuesday NATO forces
passed responsibility for the security of the entire country
entirely to Afghan security forces.
Senior Obama officials said the Taliban’s decision to open a
political office in Doha was an important step in the group’s
renunciation of Al-Qaeda.
The Taliban said it sought a political solution which would help establish a just government and bring about an end to the foreign occupation of Afghanistan.
After opening the "political bureau" in Doha alongside Qatari officials, Taliban representative Mohammed Naeem further told a news conference that the militant group hoped to secure good relations with Afghanistan’s neighbors.
Following the bilateral talks between US and Taliban representatives, the Islamist political movement is expected to meet with Karzai's High Peace Council for follow up talks several days later.
A senior Afghan official confirmed that the Taliban had held
secret talks with the Afghan government on Tuesday in a bid to
end years of bloodshed.
"The peace talks will certainly take place between the Taliban and the High Peace Council," the official told Reuters.
The High Peace Council was created by Karzai in 2010 in an effort to hammer out a peace plan with the insurgency.
Speaking from the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, President Barack Obama commended Karzai for taking a courageous step towards peace, though he said the process would neither be easy nor quick. British Prime Minister David Cameron threw his support behind Washington’s decision to hold peace talks with the Taliban, echoing Obama’s sentiment that the process would be difficult.
The Taliban had previously refused to negotiate with the Karzai government, deriding it as a puppet of the United States and its NATO allies.
Despite one top administration official calling the Taliban's decision to open up an office in Doha a “milestone” on the road to ending the protracted conflict, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan was doubtful insurgents from the Haqqani network would be amenable to peace.
"All I've seen of the Haqqani would make it hard for me to believe they were reconcilable," General Joseph Dunford told Pentagon reporters via telephone from Kabul.
The Haqqani network, believed to be based in Pakistan’s restive tribal area and allied with the Taliban, pioneered suicide attacks in the country and is believed to be the most formidable anti-government force.
A US official said the Haqqanis would be represented by the Taliban delegation in Doha.
The announcement comes on the same day the US-led NATO coalition handed over nationwide security to Afghan forces. The White House had long sought to implement peace talks before the total US troop withdrawal slated for the end of 2014.
Political analyst and former Afghan MP, Daoud Sultanzoy told RT that the people of Afghanistan question whether the war was worth fighting if the Taliban is opening a political office.
“So many people died, they lost their lives, the country has been in a state of war for so many years, so many troops from all over the world were here, so much money was spent. At the end of the day, today we are seeing a historic moment where the Taliban is announcing the opening of the office of the emirates of Afghanistan with a flag. The lingering question is what was this war fought for? What is going to happen after this? This is a very important turning point .And if the Americans sit with the Taliban on one hand they will be talking, on the other hand the people of Afghanistan will be dying. This is going to be a devastating situation for our nation."
While peace discussions may eventually pull the US out of Afghanistan, a resolution could still come at a heavy expense. Richard Becker, a political analyst at the anti-war A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, told RT that Taliban fighters will almost certainly continue to attack American troops and attempt to disrupt the Karzai administration's security prospects.
“It’s been clear in many wars that until a final truce agreement is reached the fighting will go on and the war will continue,” he said. “The negotiations are really just another phase of the war itself. And clearly the Afghan forces, according to numerous reports today, are suffering record losses as this transition takes place to what is in effect a mercenary army, an army that as long as it exists will be paid for by the United States but with the hopes that it will be the Afghan National Army soldiers that do the fighting and dying on behalf of preserving the US position in the country.”