Taliban: US Agreed to Major Drawdown in Next Two Months

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Former President Hamid Karzai and other leaders shared prayers and meals with the Taliban while discussing the future of the conflict-riven country at a hotel that belongs to the Kremlin.

Senators from across party lines in the United States recently backed an amendment opposing the USA president's plan to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan with a decisive majority, underlining that the troop withdrawal could allow the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group and al-Qaeda to regroup and destabilize not only Afghanistan but the Middle East.

"This meeting was very successful", the Taliban official told reporters, flanked by the former president who was appointed after US-led forces routed the Taliban in 2001.

The militant group, which is on the offensive and already controls or contests about half of territory in Afghanistan, refuses to hold talks with the authorities in Kabul until it reaches a binding deal on the pullout of foreign troops, including 14,000 from the U.S. It would be a huge challenge for Washington to ensure that the Ghani government, which US forces have so far tried to support and is deemed as the legitimate government by the worldwide community, is an important stakeholder in the ensuing peace process. It has brought together Taliban representatives and prominent Afghan figures.

A ceasefire and the withdrawal of thousands of USA -led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops is on the table after Washington secured earlier assurances from the Taliban that they would not allow groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State to attack the United States and its allies.

Afghan security forces gather at the site a day after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.

He said that "when the American forces announce the withdrawal of their troops" there could be further "intra-Afghan dialogue".

Ghani's allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process, and ostensibly the months-long push by the U.S. to engage the Taliban has been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with Kabul.

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But Pakistan "has avoided taking any concrete or irreversible steps such as arresting or expelling Taliban leaders who do not cooperate with reconciliation efforts", he said. He said there was a near-consensus in the talks on this subject.

The talks which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday in Moscow involved Taliban members and Afghan opposition politicians. In a lengthy interview with the privately owned ToloNews TV, Ghani denounced the ongoing Moscow meeting, arguing the attendees did not have the executive power to translate decisions into action.

He said a formal Taliban office in Afghanistan and a credible guarantee for peace was vital. "We can find complete peace in Afghanistan".

The Taliban's refusal to meet with the Afghan government is seen as a major stumbling block to lasting peace in the country, which has been at war for four decades - almost two of which involving United States and Afghan forces against the Taliban.

Even as the USA has pursued diplomacy with the Taliban vis-à-vis the Qataris, Russia has been conducting its own diplomatic overtures, putting together a diplomatic conference in Moscow in November 2018 that brought together members of the Afghan government's High Peace Council, as well as Taliban delegates, and representatives from regional power brokers, including Islamabad, Tehran and Beijing.

Meanwhile, as the talks were underway in Moscow, violence continued in Afghanistan. He has held several meetings with the Taliban.

The US State Department, however, said no timeline has been set for possible US troop drawdown in Afghanistan.

An Afghan official says a pre-dawn Taliban attack on an army base in northern Kunduz province has killed at least 26 members of the country's security forces.