KABUL, Afghanistan : The United States envoy negotiating with the Taliban for an end to nearly 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan was departing Tuesday for Qatar to resume talks, the State Department said, amid concerns about a growing threat by an Islamic State affiliate.
Zalmay Khalilzad also will visit with the Afghan government, which has been sidelined from the talks, to discuss the “peace process and encourage full preparation for intra-Afghan negotiations,” the U.S. said.
In Washington, President Donald Trump told reporters he believes the Taliban insurgents are eager to stop fighting and that they could “very easily” prevent Afghanistan from being a breeding ground for terrorism. The U.S. will, nonetheless, keep a close eye on Taliban influence, he said, even as it thins its troop presence.
“That’s what we have to watch. And we’ll always have intelligence, and we’ll always have somebody there,” Trump said.
The new talks in Qatar, where the insurgent group has a political office, come after a horrific suicide bombing at a wedding in Kabul over the weekend.
Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest conflict in 2018, and the United Nations has said more civilians died last year than in the past decade. Afghan officials have said Saturday’s bombing killed more than 63. Over 32,000 civilians have been killed in the past 10 years.
Khalilzad has expressed interest in a deal by Sept. 1, less than a month before Afghanistan’s presidential election. The uncertainty around the talks has led many Afghans, including some candidates, to question whether the vote will occur.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, stung at being left out of the talks, has insisted the election is needed to give the government a strong mandate to deal with the Taliban.