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U.S. Envoy Meets Afghan President In Push To 'Finalize Deal With Taliban'


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (right) meets with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul in July.

U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met in Kabul with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to discuss "efforts to finalize a deal with the Taliban" militants fighting the central government and U.S. and NATO troops, officials said.

Washington last month restarted talks on a possible withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly shut down negotiations in September amid increased violence.

AFP quoted the Afghan leader's spokesman as saying that Ghani had expressed "concerns about the continued violence by the Taliban" and Afghans' desire for "a sustainable peace" in his meeting with Khalilzad.

The Taliban has refused to negotiate with the government in Kabul, saying it is a "puppet" of the United States.

"A productive trip," Khalilzad tweeted after the talks.

AFP quoted a State Department spokesman as saying the Ghani-Khalilzad meeting included discussion of "efforts to finalize a deal with the Taliban."

"If an agreement can be reached, the process must soon pivot to intra-Afghan negotiations," the spokesman added.

There are an estimated 12,000-13,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and speculation has swirled that Trump could soon announce a reduction of around 4,000 troops in 2020.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on December 15 that he was seeking a draw-down of troops "with or without" a peace deal, adding that he thought the head of the NATO mission in Afghanistan could execute current tasks with lower numbers.

Trump visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan for the Thanksgiving holiday and hinted at the possibility of a resumption of peace talks with the Taliban.

The talks have been on and off since early December but appeared to have restarted in Qatar last week.

The United Nationals Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has said it is "gravely concerned about the unprecedented levels of violence" harming Afghan civilians.

UNAMA recorded 2,563 deaths and 5,676 injured in the first nine months of this year.

With reporting by AFP
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