Khalilzad eyes peace agreement with Taliban

Ex-Guantanamo prisoners to end war? US envoy predicts peace deal after talks with Taliban delegates

The statement comes a day after U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad expressed hopes in Kabul that a peace deal could be struck before the Afghan presidential election, scheduled for April 20 next year.

The Afghan-born United States diplomat said he remained "cautiously optimistic" about the peace talks.

Khalilzad, chosen by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to hold direct talks with the Taliban, met the leaders of the hard-line Islamist group in Qatar last month to find ways to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. The Taliban have long refused US demands to negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul, which the insurgents view as a puppet regime.

"The Afghan government wants peace", the USA envoy also said.

"These were preliminary talks and no agreement was reached on any issue", he said in a statement on Monday. "The Taliban [is] saying they do not believe they can succeed militarily, that they would like to see the problems that remain resolved by peaceful means, by political negotiations".

The United States Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad has expressed hope that a truce would be reached with Taliban before Afghanistan's presidential elections due next year in April.

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Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Saturday that the Taliban "are not losing" in Afghanistan, and much more needs to be done to bring peace to the war-torn country, according to a CNN report.

Abdul Sattar Sirat, an ethnic Tajik and Islamic scholar, was suggested as a candidate to lead an interim administration. U.S. officials could not immediately be reached for comment as the State Department has refused to comment on reported talks with the Taliban.

President Donald Trump harshly criticized the 2014 prisoner exchange, and in a speech last August pledged to send in additional USA forces and redouble efforts to defeat the Taliban.

But that strategy has had little, if any, effect on the ground, with the Taliban keeping up a steady tempo of attacks and an affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group carrying out massive bombings targeting the country's Shia minority.

Earlier this month, the USA government's ombudsman for the American effort in Afghanistan issued a report that said the Taliban have strengthened their grip on the country over the past three years, with the Afghan government in Kabul controlling only about 56 per cent of the country - down from 72 per cent in 2015.

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