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Saturday, September 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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U.S., Taliban open Doha talks in fresh bid to end war

UPDATED: Sun., June 30, 2019, 12:17 a.m.

FILE - In this May 28, 2019, file photo, Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha, speaks to the media in Moscow, Russia. Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha, told The Associated Press that the Taliban's negotiating team was set to open talks with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. He has been in the region for several weeks meeting a legion of regional and Afghan officials, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) ORG XMIT: TKSK121 (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP)
FILE - In this May 28, 2019, file photo, Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha, speaks to the media in Moscow, Russia. Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha, told The Associated Press that the Taliban's negotiating team was set to open talks with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. He has been in the region for several weeks meeting a legion of regional and Afghan officials, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) ORG XMIT: TKSK121 (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP)
By Kathy Gannon Associated Press

ISLAMABAD – A fresh round of talks between the U.S. and the Taliban began in Qatar on Saturday, just days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is hoping for an Afghan peace agreement before Sept. 1.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to The Associated Press that negotiations had begun. Originally scheduled to begin in the morning, the sides sat down midafternoon for the seventh time in a series of direct talks that began last year following the appointment of U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

As in previous talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban, the focus is on the withdrawal of U.S. troops and Taliban guarantees to prevent Afghanistan from again hosting militants who can stage global attacks. Both sides say they have come to an understanding on the withdrawal and the guarantees but details have yet to be worked out.

The protracted war in Afghanistan began in 2001 to unseat the Taliban and hunt down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his followers, who carried out the 9-11 attacks in the United States while operating in Afghan territory.

After nearly 18 years and billions of dollars spent, the Taliban control or contest roughly half of Afghan territory.

In the Afghan capital of Kabul last week, Pompeo said “real progress” had been made on a draft agreement with the Taliban to ensure “that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.”

Khalilzad and Pompeo said that agreements with the Taliban will come hand in hand with understandings on an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent cease-fire. It was expected that a timetable would be among the discussion points in the Doha talks.

The Taliban’s negotiating team has been led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who co-founded the Taliban movement with its leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who ruled with an iron fist, imposing a strict brand of Islam. Omar died several years ago, while Baradar has been held in a Pakistani jail since 2010 until his release earlier this year.

The Taliban have refused to meet directly with President Ashraf Ghani’s government but have held several rounds of talks with a collection of Afghan personalities from Kabul, including former president Hamid Karzai, several prominent opposition leaders and government peace council members. Both meetings were held in Moscow earlier this year.

The Taliban say they will meet with Afghan government officials but only as ordinary Afghans and not representatives of the government until an agreement with the U.S. is finalized, saying the U.S. is the final arbiter on the Taliban’s biggest issue of troop withdrawal.

Khalilzad has been in the region for several weeks meeting a legion of regional and Afghan officials, including Ghani.

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