Afghan officials: Taliban kill 11 policemen, 10 others - worldwide


On Tuesday, former president Hamid Karzai said the existence of the current government was vital in terms of seeking a negotiated settlement to the ongoing conflict in the country and insisted on the need for the Taliban to engage in dialogue with government. "And we will indeed focus on counter-terrorism", Trump said in his annual State of the Union address to Congress.

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday his administration had accelerated negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan with groups including the Taliban, and, as they make progress, would be able to reduce the U.S. troop presence there.

USA and Taliban delegations met in Qatar in January and are due to meet again this month.

Ghani's government has so far been shut out of the evolving peace talks between Taliban negotiators and USA envoys to end more than 17 years of war, with the hardline Islamist movement branding his government a US puppet.

The discussions between USA envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives have reached a critical juncture with the two sides signalling that at least for now they are ready to end the fighting, thereby bringing the curtains down on a 17-year-old war. Now the exact timetable for the pullout must be decided, but the Taliban wants to see this happen in months, he said. But the Afghan leader has lost that luxury in recent months as he has openly opposed the outcome of US-Taliban talks, led by US special envoy Zalmai Khalilzad.

The US Department of State dampened the group's claims, saying it had not agreed to any timeline of a possible withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

"No power in the country can dissolve the government", said Ghani, who added he was ready to "stand and defend our country". "This has put Ghani in a hard position because he does not have the support of the influential Afghan figures, and can not agree with the United States on peace", the analyst noted.

However, the gathering has been criticized by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

He said delegates agreed on "almost" everything - but a consensus was not reached over the Taliban's demand for an Islamic constitution, and the group's views on women.

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"By getting the Afghan opposition to talk to the Taliban, Moscow risks fracturing an already-fragile yet fledgling peace process-and provoking a fresh crisis within an Afghan government already riven by deep divisions", said Michael Kugelman, an analyst at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Taliban and influential Afghan opposition leaders concluded a rare two-day "peace meeting" in Moscow on Wednesday, where they jointly declared that a complete withdrawal of USA -led foreign forces was key to a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

"At the first step, we want all the foreign forces to leave and end the military presence in our country", said Sohail Shahin, a spokesman for a Taliban office in Qatar.

"Decisions taken during the meeting will not be practical and we believe it will not help the Afghan peace process", Ahmadi stressed.

Debate: What future for Afghanistan without USA troops?

No government official was invited to the roundtable, which saw heavyweight Afghan politicians and other sworn enemies of the Taliban praying and dining with the militants.

Twenty-five Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and three local policemen were killed and 20 others wounded, he said, adding the clash erupted at 2am and lasted till 4am.

The intra-Afghan conference in Moscow was held on February 5-6. Yet 17 years on, the Taliban control or hold sway in roughly 50 percent of the country and carry out near daily attacks, mostly targeting the country's beleaguered security forces.