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US envoy for Afghanistan peace meets with Taliban representatives

Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Deep in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, on the front lines against Taliban and Islamic State fighters, U.S. military commanders
AP Photo/Rahmat Gul
The meeting is the latest in the Trump administration's efforts to find an end to the 17-year-old war

The US envoy for Afghanistan met with representatives of the Taliban in Qatar on Friday in latest push for peace process, the Taliban confirmed on Saturday.

The announcement by the militant group is the first official confirmation of talks between the two sides.

The Taliban said the two had met in Qatar in order to discuss ending the Afghan conflict.

The meeting was the latest in a series of diplomatic talks as President Donald Trump's administration works to find a solution that will put an end to the US’s 17-year-long Afghan war.

Citing an insider familiar with the meeting, the Wall Street Journal claimed that U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban officials in Doha, marking the second time in recent months that American officials conducted in person meetings with representatives of the Taliban.

The Taliban had reportedly met with US officials in July after an unprecedented ceasefire in June which fueled hopes that negotiations could bring an end to fighting after almost two decades. The meeting was not confirmed on the record by either side.

But a wave of attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State group in recent months has poured cold water on the nascent optimism for peace.

The Taliban reportedly told Khalilzad at the meeting that the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan was a "big obstacle" to peace, the militant group's spokesman reported in a statement to journalists.

According to the report, Khalilzad is on an 11-day trip with the goal of convincing the Taliban to join the US at the negotiation table. Khalilzad is scheduled to meet with various representatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Forced from power following the US -led coalition’s invasion in 2001, the Taliban wants full withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and to institute a government in Kabul that once-again reflects their ultraconservative interpretation of Islam.

The Taliban have long insisted on direct talks with Washington and refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they see as illegitimate.

While the State Department declined to comment on the meeting with Taliban representatives, the spokesman acknowledged that Khalilzad was engaged with a number of potential US partners involved with the administration's effort to end the war in Afghanistan.

“Special Representative Khalilzad held a number of meetings with a wide range of stakeholders as part of his trip to explore how best to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan,” the spokesperson added.

AP Photo/Steve Ruark

In September, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Kabul for an unannounced visit to war-torn Afghanistan, adding his weight to a flurry of diplomatic efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, which has become the primary focus of the administration's strategy in the country.

Doing a complete 180 on campaign promises to end all involvement in the country, Donald Trump announced in August 2017 a revamped strategy in Afghanistan that saw him commit thousands of additional US forces to the country on an open-ended basis.

Seemingly growing increasingly frustrated with slow progress in the conflict, Trump has reportedly spurred US diplomats and officials to intensify their efforts.

AFP contributed to this report.

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