Afghan, Taliban officials meet in Qatar amid US troop withdrawal

Taliban officials and Afghan politicians met in Qatar on Saturday amid calls for peace by both sides following continued fighting in the region, Reuters reported.

“Let’s … take important steps to continue the peace process, to prevent the killing of the people,” said Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, according to Reuters.

​​”Because we cannot pay the price for this in blood and we cannot escape responsibility for it,” Abdullah said.

The meeting, which is anticipated to last two days, is the latest in a round of talks that Afghan officials and Taliban representatives held in Qatar since September, the wire service reported.

Lack of progress in previous discussions is fueling pressure on both sides to come to an agreement as the U.S. is scheduled to withdraw its remaining troops by Aug. 31.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban’s deputy leader and negotiator, said there “should still be hope and the Taliban will make efforts for talks to have positive result,” according to the wire service.

Earlier this month, President Biden confirmed that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan would end Aug. 31, ahead of his Sept. 11 deadline. He defended his decision to remove troops and disputed the idea that a takeover by Taliban forces was “inevitable.”

“The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” Biden said on July 8.

The move puts an end to a 20-year conflict involving the U.S. 

However, the insurgent group has made gains throughout the country, often overpowering Afghan forces on the ground.

Around the time of Biden’s announcement, the Taliban claimed that they controlled about 85 percent of Afghanistan. The statement was made during a meeting in Moscow, where a Taliban delegation visited to reassure Russia that their recent gains would not threaten the country. 

However, Long War Journal which is maintained by Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, stated that the group had control of about half the districts in Afghanistan. 

Many members of the Republican Party and critics of the Biden administration have sounded the alarm over a withdrawal, citing concerns that the Taliban would take over in the absence of U.S. troops and allied forces. 

A day after Biden made his remarks confirming the Aug. 31 deadline, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby admitted there was a “deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan during an interview on CNN. 

“What we have seen is a deteriorating security situation on the ground, no question about that, that the Taliban continues to take district centers,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in an interview with CNN on July 9. “We are seeing them continue to advance on district centers around the country, and it is concerning.”

About 270,000 Afghan residents are estimated by the U.N. refugee agency to have been displaced since January, Reuters reported.

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