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Trump calls off secret meeting with Taliban, Afghan leaders

Trump calls off secret meeting with Taliban, Afghan leadersPresident Donald Trump said Saturday he canceled a secret weekend meeting at Camp David with Taliban and Afghanistan leaders after a bombing this week in Kabul that killed 11 people, including an American soldier, and has called off peace negotiations with the insurgent group. Trump has been under pressure from the Afghan government, lawmakers and some members of his administration who mistrust the Taliban and think it's too early to withdraw American forces. The administration's diplomat talking to the Taliban leaders for months in recent days said he was on the "threshold" of an agreement with the Taliban aimed at ending America's longest war.



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Afghan president postpones US trip to discuss Taliban deal

Afghan president postpones US trip to discuss Taliban deal



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Exclusive: Secretary of State Pompeo Declines to Sign Risky Afghan Peace Deal

Exclusive: Secretary of State Pompeo Declines to Sign Risky Afghan Peace DealThe deal doesn't ensure several crucial things, those familiar with the discussions tell TIME



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Exclusive: Pompeo Declines to Sign Risky Afghan Peace Deal

Exclusive: Pompeo Declines to Sign Risky Afghan Peace DealTentative First Steps Towards Peace Leave Major Questions Unanswered, Raise Fears of a Return to Taliban Rule



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Afghan government raises new concerns about US-Taliban deal

Afghan government raises new concerns about US-Taliban dealThe statement by presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said the Afghan government shares the concerns raised by several former U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad showed the draft of the U.S.-Taliban deal to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier this week, saying it only needs President Donald Trump’s approval.



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The Taliban Scoff at Trump’s Afghan Peace Talks Bluff

The Taliban Scoff at Trump’s Afghan Peace Talks BluffEVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/ReutersDOHA, Qatar—The American negotiator trying to cut a deal with the Taliban that might let Donald Trump get all uniformed troops out of Afghanistan before next year’s election says that the two sides have an “agreement in principle.”But Taliban officials and diplomats here in the capital of Qatar, where the talks have been held, told The Daily Beast that after Round 9 last week, there was still no deal the Taliban would sign. Trump’s man in the talks, Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, appears to be bluffing, and has tried to make it sound as if it’s all up to his boss: “Of course, it is not final until the U.S. president agrees on it. So, at the moment, we are at that stage.”Trump and His Team Send Clashing Messages on U.S. Troops in Afghanistan“I think throughout this process we’ve seen the U.S. and Zalmay get a little over his skis when it comes to things like negotiation details or a timeline for withdrawal or in this case announcing the deal being agreed upon in principle,” said one former U.S. official familiar with the details of the ongoing talks in Doha. “It isn’t over and done until Trump says it is and as we know the president’s thoughts on big deals like this often change at the last minute."Meanwhile, inside the White House, senior Trump officials are discussing last minute details of the Khalilzad-negotiated deal, according to two officials with knowledge of those conversation. Those discussions have focused in part on how to continue to support the Afghan security forces throughout the withdrawal process, those sources said.But the longer the talks go on, the clearer it is that the Taliban have the final say. They know Trump is desperate to leave, and they are determined not only to remain a power in their country, but to re-establish what they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.“The Taliban have been rather rude with the U.S. throughout the peace process because they have the impression that a withdrawal deal is a desperate desire of the USA, not the Taliban,” says a senior European diplomat in Kabul. “Imagine how rudely and offensively the Taliban will treat the already upset and isolated President [Ashraf] Ghani.”Presumably there will be some agreement in the not too distant future as the Taliban give Trump enough concessions to save face, but they know what they call the “evacuation” of all American forces, whether in uniform or as covert or contract operatives, will demoralize the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul and especially the Afghan military and security forces. These local soldiers and police, after 17 years and tens of thousands of casualties in their ranks, still remain largely dependent on American support, especially from the air. There are many precedents indicating what to expect when such dependent troops see their patrons abandoning them. Typically, large numbers lose the will to fight and they flee, surrender, or change sides. Such was the case after peace talks with Hanoi allowed Richard Nixon political cover to withdraw all American combat troops by the end of 1973 only to see Saigon fall to North Vietnam in the spring of 1975, less than two years later.When the Israelis were ending their occupation of South Lebanon in 2000 they quickly discovered that the militias they created and armed there were selling them out and forging covert alliances with their enemy. Already, Taliban sources tell The Daily Beast they are looking at what Afghan military units—perhaps entire bases—are most likely to come over to their side as the Americans withdraw.At present the U.S. has only 14,000 uniformed troops left in the country. It invaded in 2001 following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington by al-Qaeda, which operated out of Afghanistan with Taliban protection. By 2010 under President Barack Obama there were 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground as well as contingents from NATO allies. But Obama had brought the American presence down to 8,400 by the time he left office—slightly fewer than the number of troops Trump mentioned in his latest public peroration on the subject.“We’re going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there as to what happens,” Trump told Fox News Radio last week. Obviously aware how unsatisfying such arrangements are for supporters who want a definitive end to America’s longest war, Trump also repeated his thought that the U.S. could win that war “so fast, if I wanted to kill 10 million people … which I don’t.”Such hollow threats only play into the hands of Taliban propagandists who already benefit from what they portray as U.S. disregard for civilian casualties and U.S. Special Envoy Khalilzad’s overstated optimism in an interview published Monday by Afghanistan’s TOLONews agency could be read as a reaction to Trump’s overstated rhetoric of fire and fury.In the meantime, in what is also a familiar pattern during peace negotiations, the Taliban have stepped up the pace of the war in the field to strengthen their hand at the table.Various versions of the supposed “agreement in principle” have appeared in the press, whether as leaks or as informed speculation masquerading as draft documents. Over the Labor Day weekend in the United States, Khalilzad presented the results of Round 9 to the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who have been left out of the talks but are supposed to have a chance to negotiate directly with the Taliban as the U.S. withdraws.One supposed draft, which appeared originally on an Afghan television news site, has circulated in Washington and does reflect some of the agreed upon points in the negotiations, according to our sources.From the beginning of the U.S.-Taliban talks 10 months ago the focus has been on four issues: the withdrawal of U.S. forces; assurances that no terrorists targeting the United States (al-Qaeda, ISIS, or others not yet named) will be allowed to operate out of Afghanistan; a ceasefire; and negotiations with the government in Kabul. The assurance that Afghanistan will no longer harbor terrorists aiming to attack the United States is a relatively easy one for the Taliban to make. They were dragged into the war that deposed them by a misplaced loyalty to their relationship with Osama bin Laden. As for the so-called Islamic State, it is a direct threat to their own power. The withdrawal of U.S. troops is supposed to begin within 135 days of a signed agreement and last no longer than 14 months. The Taliban also agree they will not attack U.S. troops “during the evacuation” and “neither will the U.S. have any military collaboration with the Afghan government.”Trump’s Afghan Exit Plans Are Mired in the India-Pakistan MessTaliban representatives in Doha told The Daily Beast that any U.S. effort to replace a uniformed presence with contingents of CIA operatives or contractors will be unacceptable, but they might be willing to accept extensive intelligence monitoring from neighboring countries, presumably including Uzbekistan, which already has a major U.S. presence. They also warned against an outsized military or security presence to protect the U.S. embassy and diplomatic outposts.For its part, the U.S. has made its withdrawal contingent on progress in negotiations between the Taliban and the central government, and several lines have been included in various drafts assuring respect for human rights, women’s rights, and free speech, but always with the caveat “based on the principles of Islam” which the Taliban interpret in their own particular way.Sami Yousafzai reported from Doha, Erin Banco from Washington, and Christopher Dickey from New York.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.



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US to start Afghan withdrawal with 5,000 troops out in 20 weeks

US to start Afghan withdrawal with 5,000 troops out in 20 weeksAmerica has agreed in principle to withdraw 5,000 troops from five military bases in 20 weeks, in a deal with the Taliban to kick start talks with the Afghan government. The accord which could be announced as early as Wednesday would see US troops begin to pull back from their longest ever conflict, in return for a reduction in Taliban attacks and the start of formal negotiations with Ashraf Ghani's government. A large blast hit Kabul on Monday evening, close to a heavily fortified compound housing international organisations.The Green Village compound has been struck by several suicide car combs in the past. There was no immediate report of casualties. The deal brokered over nine rounds of talks in Doha has yet to be signed off by Donald Trump and Mr Ghani was last night consulting with officials after being shown the latest draft of the prospective agreement. Nato allies including Britain will also be briefed on the deal before any announcement. Yet Western officials familiar the talks said final go ahead could be given as early as Wednesday or Thursday. “Yes, we have reached an agreement in principle,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the top US negotiator, told told Tolo news. “Of course, it is not final until the US president agrees on it. So, at the moment, we are at that stage.” Sources briefed on talks stressed the US troop withdrawal would be “conditions-based”, with an insistence by Washington that the Taliban violence reduced significantly and almost immediately. The Taliban have so far refused a complete ceasefire. The draft accord has been brokered over nine rounds of talks in Doha, Qatar Credit: AFP After the first tranche of 5,000 of America's 14,000-odd troops had left, the rest would gradually leave the country over 15 months or more. If the Taliban failed to meet the conditions then America would “stop the clock” on the withdrawal however. Other details of the draft agreement remained closely guarded, including details of guarantees to be given by the Taliban that Afghanistan would not again become a base for transnational terrorist such as al-Qaeda. Sources said the most significant part of the agreement would be the start of talks between Afghan political leaders and the Taliban. Mr Ghani's government has so far been shut out of talks with the Taliban declaring it is only an American puppet. The country risks slipping back into civil war unless the sides can agree a wider political settlement on how to run Afghanistan after America has left. The sides could meet in Oslo as early as later this month and a wider ceasefire is likely to be high on the Afghan government agenda. While there is widespread desire among Afghans for an end to the bloodshed killing thousands of security forces and civilians a year. But there is also fear the Taliban want to reimpose their harsh Islamic emirate of the 1990s, rolling back civil and women's rights Counter terrorism officials in Washington are also worried the Taliban will be unable or unwilling to prevent terrorist groups setting up bases in Afghanistan, just as al-Qaeda did before the 9/11 attacks. It is also unclear whether voting in the impending presidential election will continue if a deal is signed. Polling at the end of September is predicted to follow previous Afghan elections in being riddled with fraud and bitterly disputed. Mr Ghani, seen as the leading candidate, is adamant elections must continue, but American diplomats are understood to be concerned a flawed and contested poll will only detract from talks.



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Taliban launch major attack on Afghan city of Kunduz

Taliban launch major attack on Afghan city of KunduzThe Taliban launched a large-scale attack on Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s main cities, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 75 others, government officials said Saturday, even as the insurgent group continued negotiations with the United States on ending America’s longest war. The militants, who have demanded that all foreign forces leave Afghanistan, now control or hold sway over roughly half of the country and are at their strongest since their 2001 defeat by a U.S.-led invasion. The U.S. envoy in the talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in a Twitter post that he raised the Kunduz attack with the Taliban and told them “violence like this must stop.” He is expected to visit Kabul on Sunday to brief the Afghan government.



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Afghan killer sparks far-right criticism in France

Afghan killer sparks far-right criticism in FranceJacquet said the knifeman had been first registered in France in 2009 as a minor, but travelled to Germany, Norway, Britain and Italy before returning to France in 2016 where he was granted temporary residency rights. France has been the victim of a string of Islamist-inspired terror attacks since 2015 that have cost hundreds of lives.



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Taliban says peace deal with US to end Afghan war is close

Taliban says peace deal with US to end Afghan war is closeA peace accord to end America's 18-year-war in Afghanistan is close to completion the Taliban said, with a rough draft being proof read and translated before its is signed off. Donald Trump's chief negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, will leave officials to complete final details in Doha, and fly to Kabul to brief the Afghan government. He is then expected to head to Brussels to brief Nato allies before any deal is signed and announced, sources familiar with negotiations said. "We hope to have good news soon for our Muslim, independence seeking nation," said Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha. Details of the accord will not be announced until it is complete, but sources briefed on the talks said it is expected to see America withdraw troops over around 15 months, but only if security conditions on the ground are met. The Taliban will give guarantees Afghan soil will not become a launchpad for attacks by transnational terrorist groups, though it is unclear how that will be verified. They will also begin talks with Afghan leaders to discuss a wider political settlement. The Afghan government controls little over half the country despite 18 years of US support Credit: Jim Huylebroek for the Telegraph The talks have failed to agree on a broad ceasefire however or whether America will keep a permanent counter-terrorism force in the country to continue targeting Islamic State group and al-Qaeda. Both issues had been “kicked down the road to later talks”. Talks between the Taliban and Afghan politicians could now begin quickly and international officials are already beginning preparations for a meeting in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Taliban and American envoys have spent more than a year trying to reach a settlement, meeting for nine rounds of talks. Any accord is unlikely to quickly stop bloodshed in what has become the world's deadliest conflict. The Taliban have until now refused formal talks with the Afghan government, who they consider a US puppet regime, and have refused a truce against the Afghan forces. Critics of Mr Trump's peace process warn it is a fig leaf to allow him to withdraw and it will fatally undermine the negotiating hand of the Afghan government as it tries to bargain with the Taliban.



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