Taliban co-founder heads for key US talks


US soldiers walk by as a Nato helicopter flies overhead at a coalition base in the Khogyani district in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. August 12, 2015Image copyright

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The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan and is part of a Nato mission there

One of the Taliban’s founders is going to Qatar for Monday’s talks with the US, Taliban sources have told the BBC, raising chances of a peace deal.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar spent eight years in Pakistani custody until his release last year.

He is now in charge of the Taliban political office in Qatar but until now he has remained in Pakistan.

Last month’s US-Taliban talks in Qatar made progress in ending 17 years of conflict in Afghanistan, the US said.

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad did not give details but said the unprecedented six days of talks were “more productive than they have been in the past”.

The Taliban also said progress had been made in the negotiations.

However, a spokesman added that talks about “unsolved matters” would continue.

The Taliban have so far refused to hold direct talks with Afghan officials, whom they dismiss as “puppets”.

They say they will only begin negotiations with the government once a firm date for the withdrawal of US troops has been agreed.

After last month’s talks, Taliban sources were also quoted by Reuters news agency as saying the two sides had finalised clauses to be included in a draft agreement.

They reportedly envisaged foreign forces withdrawing within 18 months of the deal being signed in return for assurances that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group would not be allowed to use Afghanistan as a base to attack the US.

The Taliban’s power and reach have surged since foreign combat troops left Afghanistan in 2014.

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The Taliban have vastly strengthened their hand on the battlefield in recent years

Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said more than 45,000 members of the country’s security forces had been killed since he became leader in 2014.

It is estimated that about 15 million people – half the Afghan population – are living in areas either controlled by the Taliban or where the militants are openly present and regularly mount attacks.

In December, reports emerged that the US was planning to withdraw about 7,000 troops – roughly half the remaining US military presence in the country.

Analysts warned that such a withdrawal could offer the Taliban a propaganda victory.

Who are the Taliban?

The Taliban emerged in the early 1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, shortly before the demise of the Soviet Union.

The militants ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, imposing a brutal version of Islamic law that included public executions and amputations, and the banning of women from public life.

They were driven from power by US-led troops following the 9/11 attacks which Washington blamed on al-Qaeda militants sheltered by the Taliban.

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