US and Taliban negotiators after 16 days of indecision now wrapped up their longest round of consecutive peace talks on Tuesday with progress made but no agreement on when foreign troops might withdraw, multiple sources said.
The 16 days of talks, in which the United States also sought assurances that Taliban insurgents will not use Afghanistan to stage attacks, are expected to resume in late March.
“Withdrawal of the foreign forces and the guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used (to attack) any other country were the only two topics of discussion,” a source familiar with the meetings said.
The negotiations in Doha, Qatar included the Taliban’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and a US negotiating team led by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The talks were held in a closed-off banquet hall at the five-star Ritz-Carlton seaside hotel on the southern end of Doha.
Khalilzad is now expected to return to Washington to brief US officials, the sources said.
Talks ended on a day in which Taliban fighters stepped up pressure on the battlefield, killing 20 Afghan soldiers and capturing another 20 in western Afghanistan. In another province, officials said an air strike killed both Taliban and civilians.
About 14,000 US troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some US forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.
The US has also been pushing the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and to talk with Afghanistan’s government, which the militant group considers a US puppet regime.
“The US officials were pressing the Taliban to declare a ceasefire, but our leaders were clear that ceasefire can only be announced after the foreign force withdrawal announcement was made,” said a senior Taliban commander privy to the talks.