The Afghan government and the Taliban have agreed to meet for high-level peace talks for the first time after years of conflict. The two are set to meet in the State of Qatar’s capital, Doha, as Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Reuters on June 14 2020. No date has been set for the meeting yet, but Shaheen said the Taliban is ready to meet within a week of the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government.
The United States government signed a deal with the Taliban in February that detailed a plan for withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, with the idea that peace talks would follow suit. The deal calls for a prisoner swap; 5,000 Taliban prisoners for 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners. The U.S. is also supposed to lift sanctions against the Taliban and work with the United Nations to lift other sanctions on the group.
“I welcome this small but important step towards the chance for Afghans to live in peace, free from terrorism… We remain absolutely committed to building an Afghanistan that is a strong partner for decades to come,” United Kingdom Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC News.
“I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show we’re not all wasting time,” United States President Donald Trump said. “If bad things happen, we’ll go back with a force like no one’s ever seen.”
The Afghan government has released 3,000 Taliban prisoners so far, but a senior government official told Reuters that the government has a problem with the release of a few hundred high-profile Taliban prisoners and instead offered an alternative list of prisoners to release. This issue is the final major point that stands between the peace negotiations. “There are some dangerous Taliban fighters named in the list, and releasing them is literally crossing a red line,” a senior European diplomat told Reuters. “Some NATO members find it extremely uncomfortable to support the release of Taliban prisoners who were behind large-scale suicide attacks on minority groups and on expats.” The list allegedly includes prisoners who were involved in the 2017 truck bombing near Germany’s embassy in Kabul, two sources told Reuters. The attack killed more than 150 people.
The Taliban, who has also released hundreds of prisoners, denied high-profile attackers were on their list of people to release and insisted all 5,000 be released before peace talks can begin. “There are no such people… these are just excuses to create barriers against the peace process,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Thursday.
The story of the Afghan war begins one month following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. The U.S. launched air strikes after the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the man behind the attacks. Not long thereafter, the Taliban was removed from power with help from NATO. But the Taliban was not yet finished. They then turned into an insurgent force and continued to attack and destabilize the Afghan government. NATO stopped combat missions in 2014, but stayed to train and assist Afghan military forces. The U.S., however, continued on with scaled-back operations.
This war has lasted 19 years. By the time NATO and the U.S. formally ended their combat mission in 2014, the war had lasted 13 years, making it the longest war ever fought by the United States. According to the United Nations, almost 3,500 allied forces have died in Afghanistan since the start of the invasion and more than 32,000 civilians have died.
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