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By Dan De Luce, Mushtaq Yusufzai, Courtney Cube and Josh Lederman
1; President Donald Trump Envoy to Afghanistan reaches out to many top Taliban numbers when he tries to initiate peace talks to end the war before Trump can simply pull out the plug and order US troops at home, say foreign diplomats.
US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has moved at a rapid pace and dared beyond the official Taliban office in Qatar to meet other members of the uprising, two foreign diplomats and three former US officials told NBC News.
His investigation included a meeting in the United Kingdom Arab Emirates with a militant claiming he is a associate of Mullah Yaqub, son of late Taliban leader Mullah Omar and now one of two deputies to the current Taliban leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, said two foreigners diplomats.
Khalilzad tests all channels, “said a Western diplomat, who was not competent to speak on the post.
Although it was still unclear whether the Taliban member really was a representative sent by Yaqub, the meeting reflected how Khalilzad moves an urgent feeling and casting a wide network to try to persuade different parts of the uprising to come to the table to talk peace, said former officials.
Felt aware that President Trump has expressed impatience with the US military mission in Afghanistan and That time is limited, Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan and served as American ambassador in the country after the attacks on 9/11, has pushed up his diplomacy at a rapid pace, former officials and foreign diplomats said.
US officials are working on the assumption that The president will pull out contact with the current US military mission in Afghanistan l fought before the US presidential election in November 2020, says current and former US officials.
“Both the Department of Defense and the State Department act as if delay is on the table sooner or later,” said Thomas Jocselyn, a leading colleague at the Federation of Democracy’s Thinking.
The Trump Administration has also tried to force the Taliban to the negotiating table with a massive bombing campaign. This year, the number of US bombs in Afghanistan fell at a record high of over 5,200 per September 30th.
The government department refused to disclose details of which Khalilzad met during his travels or what was discussed but said he will continue to meet “with all interested parties.”
“We will not read each meeting as a special representative. Khalilzad determines how best it is to promote a negotiated solution between Afghanistan and Taliban government” a government official who was not authorized to speak on the post.
Officially also said that the US Envoy has stayed in close cooperation with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan political leaders. In his last trip, his first and last stop in Kabul was “to insure President Ghani and President Abdullah to keep an eye on all his forthcoming meetings and the subsequent results of these meetings.”
Recent concerns about US diplomacy – and Trump’s clear ambivalence of keeping troops in the country – have created friction with Ghani and his allies. Afghan officials in Kabul fear that Washington’s direct talks with the Taliban could leave them sideways and that a short timeline could burn back.
“Peace talks must also not be driven by superficial deadlines called for by a US government that is keen to deal with the conflict,” Nader Nadery, a former senior advisor to President Ghani, wrote in a Washington Post Monday procurement.
The last meeting of a representative of the Taliban’s former leader, if confirmed, would be “a potential positive development,” giving Yaqub’s highest rank and reputation for favoring a political solution, “said Johnny Walsh, a former senior advisor for Afghan peace efforts at the state department.
US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Peace, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the US embassy in Kabul on November 18, 2018. US Embassy / Reuters
“It is worth exploring more of these suggestion channels than we may have collectively earlier, because some of them will lead somewhere,” said Walsh. 19659007] Yaqub’s father, Mullah Omar, was the remaining founder of the hard Islamic Taliban who ruled the country 1996-2001 and forged an alliance with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. His regime was extinct from the power of the American forces in 2001 to have offered a refuge for al-Qaeda militants who arranged the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
During three days of Qatar calls earlier this month, Khalilzad met with Eight Taliban presidents, including two militants previously held in Guantanamo, Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban leader in Herat, and Mohammed Fazl, a former Taliban defense chief, Taliban sources, told NBC News. Their participation signaled the serious interest of the Taliban in holding talks and, in particular, Fazl, as an increase in the Taliban Talks negotiation budget in Qatar, analysts said.
Khalilzad told his recent visit to Kabul that “I am cautiously optimistic or hopefully considering the complexities that exist.”
The US Envoy also said that “the Taliban say they do not think they can succeed in military” .
However, a revolt source rejected Khalilzed’s comments saying that his account was too positive and that the group had not given up its military prospects.
“We just mentioned that we believe the fighting is not the solution to any problem,” said a leading Taliban leader, who spoke on terms of anonymity, to NBC News.
Khalilzad has asked President Ghani and the Taliban to form negotiating groups and stresses that delegations must be largely representative to ensure a successful solution, before diplomats and former officials said. By continuing with a series of direct discussions with the Taliban, Khalilzad effectively put pressure on Ghani to quickly form a bargaining team, former United States officials said familiar with the negotiations.
Afghan electoral authorities have in the meantime increased the possibility of postponing the presidential elections scheduled for April next year due to the votes cast in last month’s parliamentary polls.
Khalilzad has in his kabul meetings explored the idea of pushing back the election and its potential benefit for peace talks, a Afghan government official and a former US official said. Under this scenario, an intergovernmental government may include a Taliban commissioner, and this could potentially open the way for the Taliban to enter into full-fledged peace talks, as it has long argued that the current Afghan government and the Constitution are illegal.
Image: Mullah Omar “/>
Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in 2013. National Counterterrorism Center / Reuters
Khalilzad told reporters in Kabul that it was up to Afghans to decide whether to postpone elections but he added that it would be ideal to arrive at a peace agreement before the April elections.
The critics have warned to form an effective intergovernmental government could be impossible given the current Afghan government’s deep wards and frequent dysfunctions.
The Afghan official said the Ghani government is skeptical that the Taliban can deliver on some promises and that Pakistan and other countries lending support to the insurgency hold the key to any peace agreement.
“The Afghan government does not consider the Taliban to be independent enough to stop the war even if they agree to do so in negotiations,” said the official. “The only way the fighting will stop is if the Pakistani and other international Taliban supporters are involved in the negotiations.”
Pakistan – Taliban protracted protector – Last month Mullah Abdul released Ghani Baradar, a founder of the uprising, to allow him to participate in some political talks. The move is seen as a welcome first step by US officials, but it was unclear whether Islamabad was prepared to cast its full weight after the conversation.
Still, former officials said that the current peace effort showed more promises than a former US attempt under President Barack Obama, plagued by the grassroots within the administration and ambivalence of military commander who favored hammering the Taliban on the battlefield before entering into serious talks.
“It was seen as a kind of side project that the State Department was running,” said Jason Campbell, a former Deputy Department of Defense, who worked with Afghanistan’s policy.
The whole project collapsed in 2013, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai was betrayed by Washington’s outlook to the Taliban. 19659007] The current taliban talks have been accompanied by an increase in violence in Afghanistan, indicating that the Taliban have gained strength of the battle in the last few months. A suicide bombing last week in Kabul claimed more than 50 lives and three US service members were killed Tuesday by a road bomb near the Ghazni city.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, Head of Taliban Political Council in Qatar and an unidentified representative of the Afghan Taliban Movement, speaks before the start of the second peacequarters round in Afghanistan on peace talks in Moscow on November 9, 2018 . Sergei Chirikov / EPA
In turn, the Pentagon has launched a bombing campaign against the Taliban, trying to keep the military pressure on the uprisings.
At the end of September, US military aircraft released 5,213 weapons across Afghanistan so far this year, exceeding the 2017 sum, which stood at 4,361, according to the US Central Command.
For its part, the Taliban have also adopted a “fight and talk” strategy that is launching new attacks on cities and cities – including a five-day battle in Ghazni in August – although their representatives held a series of meetings with American diplomats in Doha.
Analysts and former officials say that the Taliban are in a stronger position on the battlefield than ever since they were detained from power in 2001.
Abigail Williams contributed.