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Intra-Afghan Peace Talks To Resume In Qatar Amid Continued Violence

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) meets with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban's peace negotiation team, amid talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, in Doha on November 21, 2020.

KABUL -- Afghan government representatives are set to depart for Doha on January 4 ahead of a new round of peace negotiations with the Taliban following a 20-day hiatus.

The sides are scheduled to resume their power-sharing talks in the Qatari capital on January 5, amid rising violence and chaos across Afghanistan that have threatened efforts to put an end to nearly two decades of war.

The direct intra-Afghan talks began in September some seven months after the Taliban reached an agreement with the United States.

Last month, the Afghan government and the Taliban agreed on rules and procedures for negotiations, advancing the talks beyond basic procedural questions to more substantive issues, including reaching an elusive cease-fire.

Najia Anwari, a spokeswoman for the Peace Affairs Ministry, said the negotiations were “a complicated process” but that “the Afghan government and the negotiating team, with regard to the interest of the people of Afghanistan, are determined to take the process forward.”

A spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Qatar told RFE/RL that they are fully prepared to participate in the new round of talks.

The international community has urged both sides to reduce hostilities and move quickly toward a negotiated settlement amid ongoing violence and clashes across much of Afghanistan.

Afghan government officials and the U.S. military have also accused the Taliban of a string of bomb attacks and targeted killings of government employees, journalists, clerics, politicians, and human rights activists.

The militant group has rejected some of the accusations while making gains against government forces in fighting in several parts of Afghanistan.

In a statement issued on January 4, the Taliban alleged that recent U.S. air strikes against insurgents in Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Helmand provinces violated the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in Doha last February.

Colonel Sonny Leggett, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, rejected the accusation as “false” and said the United States would continue to defend Afghan forces against Taliban attacks.

“US Forces have been clear & consistent: We will defend Afghan forces against TB attacks. We renew our call for all sides to reduce violence.” Leggett tweeted.

"The Taliban's campaign of unclaimed attacks and targeted killings of government officials, civil society leaders & journalists must...cease for peace to succeed," the spokesman wrote in a separate tweet.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has held power in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, though the Taliban control large swaths of the country.

Under the U.S.-Taliban deal, all foreign forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for security guarantees from the militant group. NATO has roughly 11,000 troops in Afghanistan from several countries.

In November, the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump announced that 2,000 American troops will exit Afghanistan by mid-January, leaving just 2,500 behind.

The pace of any further U.S. withdrawal is expected to be determined after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.

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