Civilian deaths in war-torn Afghanistan hit record high

Elias Hubbard
July 17, 2018

The Taliban have rejected talks with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which they see as illegitimate and instead insisted they would only talk with the United States.

That marks a tactical shift by the Trump administration, which has previously only appeared willing to participate in discussions with the Taliban if those talks also involve the Afghan government.

The Times said no date has been set for the talks and peace efforts could still be derailed, but the shift in USA strategy exposes the "sense of urgency" the Trump administration feels "to break the stalemate in Afghanistan".

It is the second time in just over a month that the ministry has been targeted by militants.

He also said the USA is willing to discuss the position of worldwide forces in Afghanistan, which the Taliban said must leave the country as a condition for negotiations.

The latest report comes nearly a year after United States President Donald Trump announced his new South Asia strategy that involved ramping up American air strikes against militants.

The Afghan government plans to announce a second cease-fire with the Taliban during a major Muslim holiday in August as part of an effort to kick-start peace talks involving the US, the Islamist insurgency and the government, Afghan and USA officials working on the process said.

The Taliban official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was authorized to speak to journalists, said, "We wait for them to officially inform us".

"The U.S.is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government", said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Martin L. O'Donnell, Resolute Support spokesman.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kabul briefly last week, and it is believed diplomats have been laying the groundwork for talks between the two sides. The official reiterated the Taliban's call for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

The department added that "any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government".

The US-led invasion drove the hardline Taliban from power in 2001, as part of a crackdown on Islamist militants after the 9/11 attacks in the US.

"And our Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk with the Taliban and discuss the role of worldwide forces", General Nicholson said.

Many war-weary Americans have also come out in support of USA withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan reached a record in the first half of the year, despite last month's ceasefire, with a surge in suicide attacks claimed by Islamic State, the United Nations has said.

The conflict appears stalemated, with insurgents controlling or contesting more than 40 percent of the country.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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