U.S. envoy visits Kabul, touts “effective operations” by American forces and Taliban against ISIS

Washington’s special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in the Afghan capital and will “rejoin talks with the Taliban,” the State Department said Wednesday. Khalilzad’s visit comes just days after President Donald Trump visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan for the Thanksgiving holiday, when he hinted at a resumption of peace talks with the Taliban.

Khalilzad will travel from Kabul to Doha, where he will “rejoin talks with the Taliban to discuss steps that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a peaceful settlement of the war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a ceasefire,” the State Department said.

Khalilzad tweeted earlier Wednesday that a recent military campaign targeting the ISIS was an example of an “effective operations by U.S./Coalition & Afghan forces as well as the Taliban.”

The recent campaign in Nangarhar is one example. Effective operations by US/Coalition & Afghan security forces, as well as the Taliban, led to ISIS-K losing territory & fighters. Hundreds surrendered. ISIS-K hasn’t been eliminated but this is real progress.
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) December 3, 2019

A Taliban official said the group has held informal talks with the Americans, without specifying where or who participated. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the talks.

Mr. Trump said the U.S. and Taliban have been engaged in peace talks and insisted the Taliban want to make a deal after heavy U.S. fire in recent months.

The Taliban official said the U.S. has been pressing for a cease-fire, even a temporary one during the time of an agreement signing. While there has been no formal announcement of a reduction in violence, Taliban attacks at least in the cities appear to have decreased in recent weeks.

The Taliban quickly denied responsibility for Wednesday’s shooting that killed Japanese Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, as well as five Afghans, including the doctor’s bodyguards, the driver and a passenger.

Last month, Taliban officials in southern Zabul province announced an unofficial cease-fire in three districts of the province, which they mostly control. The announcement came with the release of hostages Kevin King, and American, and Australian Timothy Weeks in exchange for senior Taliban leaders, including Anas Haqqani.

Still, the Taliban have rejected an all out cease-fire and have continued to conduct near daily attacks around the country against Afghan National Security Forces. U.S. and Afghan forces also have continued their assault on Taliban, according to daily activity reports from the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

Earlier, Suhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesman in the Qatar capital of Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office, said the agreement, which Trump declared dead in September after a surge in violence killed a U.S. soldier, called for an immediate cease-fire with U.S. and NATO troops.

The agreement also called for an intra-Afghan dialogue to begin within 10 days of the signing. The first item on the agenda was to be a cease-fire.

American officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the goal is to get to intra-Afghan negotiations. In these negotiations, Afghans – from Taliban to government representatives to prominent Afghans, including women – will decide the road map for a post-war Afghanistan.

The negotiations aren’t expected to be smooth and will include a number of thorny issues from constitutional reform to the fate of armed militias, Taliban fighters, local police and national security forces.

In recent days, President Ashraf Ghani said the ISIS affiliate has been routed from its strongholds in eastern Nangarhar province.