Kabul, May 31 (IANS) The Taliban have been holding secret meetings with Afghan officials on a possible ceasefire, a top US general in Afghanistan has said.
General John Nicholson, in a teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon from Kabul on Wednesday, said the talks also involved foreign governments and international organisations, Tolo News reported.
“You see mid-level, senior-level Taliban leaders engaging with Afghans,” said General Nicholson, adding that a lot of the diplomatic activity was taking place “off the stage”.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani proposed negotiations in February, saying the Taliban could be recognised as a political party if they accepted a ceasefire and recognised the country’s Constitution. But the Taliban did not respond to the offer at the time.
Since then violence has continued with mounting casualties on both sides.
On Wednesday, the militants launched an attack on the Interior Ministry in Kabul, demonstrating their ability to carry out strikes in the heart of the country’s capital.
General Nicholson said initial indications suggested that the Taliban and the Haqqani network were behind the attack, even though the Islamic State claimed responsibility for it, according to Tolo.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for another attack on a police station in the capital of Logar province. Seven people including three police officers were killed.
General Nicholson, however, played down a spate of Taliban attacks, saying violence levels were still lower than average as some insurgents talked peace — a situation he described as “talking and fighting”.
Comparing Afghanistan’s situation to Colombia — where a 50-year civil war led to a peace treaty in 2016 — General Nicholson said “violence and progress could coexist”.
The US military, meanwhile, said that US troops killed “dozens” of Taliban leaders when their artillery barrage struck a meeting of insurgent commanders in Helmand province on May 24.
General Nicholson said the retreating Taliban leaders were observed attending a meeting of other leaders in the province, an area under the Taliban’s control.
The US Marines “tracked 50 of them to a meeting in Musa Qala and struck them with HIMARS rockets, killing dozens of the enemy leaders,” he added.
“Among the more than 50 casualties was the deputy shadow governor of Helmand, multiple Taliban district governors, intelligence commanders and key provincial-level leadership from Kandahar, Kunduz, Herat, Farah, Uruzgan and Helmand provinces,” the US military said.