Trump's envoy to Afghanistan rushes to launch Taliban peace talks ahead of possible troop pullout: report

Trump's envoy to Afghanistan rushes to launch Taliban peace talks ahead of possible troop pullout: report
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE’s envoy to Afghanistan is moving rapidly to reach out to as many top Taliban figures as possible in an attempt to start peace talks before the president orders a troop pullout without an end to the conflict, NBC News reported.

Two foreign diplomats and three former U.S. officials told NBC News that U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has moved beyond the official Taliban office in Qatar to meet other members of the militant group, including meetings in the United Arab Emirates.

One Western diplomat described Khalilzad’s method as “testing all channels.”

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Trump in recent weeks has made clear his frustration with the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, and in a Tuesday interview with The Washington Post floated the idea of removing troops from the Middle East.

The president cited the lower price of oil as a reason to withdraw and said that he was only keeping a military presence in Afghanistan because “experts” told him that United States forces were still needed there.

“Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel,” Trump said. “Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.”

Roughly 14,000 U.S. service members are based in Afghanistan, predominantly to assist Afghan security forces against the Taliban and militants aligned with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Khalilzad, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, has moved quickly in his diplomacy, as it’s assumed that Trump will pull troops out of in Afghanistan before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, current and former U.S. officials told NBC News.

In an attempt to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, the Trump administration has also taken up a major bombing campaign, dropping more than 5,200 bombs on the country as of Sept. 30, a record high.

The State Department would not comment on any meetings and would only tell the network that Khalilzad will continue to meet “with all interested parties.”

As part of his effort, Khalilzad earlier this month met with eight Taliban representatives — including two militants formerly held at Guantanamo Bay detention facility — during three days of talks in Qatar, Taliban sources told NBC.

Khalilzad has also asked Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban to create negotiating teams to assure a successful conflict settlement, foreign diplomats and former officials said.

Despite Khalilzad’s fast-paced efforts, the Taliban has been slow to come to the table to end the war, now in its 17th year.

The group last week rejected a peace deal from the U.S., which would set an April deadline to end the war.

The Taliban has also ramped up violence in Afghanistan in the past few months, including a suicide bombing last week in Kabul that killed 50.

Three U.S. service members were also killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb near Ghazni city. More than 2,400 U.S. forces have died in the conflict.