US doesn't seek permanent Afghan military presence: Official

Reuters
Kabul, Afghanistan Updated: Jan 28, 2019, 04:34 PM(IST)

File photo: US troops in Afghanistan. Photograph:( Reuters )

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The Taliban have repeatedly refused to talk to the Western-backed Afghan government, which they see as a puppet of the United States.

A senior US government official, speaking after six days of talks between a US team and the Afghan Taliban, said on Monday that Washington was committed to the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan after 17 years of war.

The official, who declined to be identified, described "significant progress" in talks last week with Afghan Taliban militants in Qatar on a foreign troop pullout, but more negotiations were needed on a ceasefire and its timing.

"Of course we don't seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan," the official said in the capital Kabul.

"Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post-peace government," the official told Reuters. "We would like to leave a good legacy."

There could not be a withdrawal without a ceasefire, the official added.

Both US officials and the hardline Islamic group hailed progress after the talks on Saturday but the US official said that no draft deal had been finalised.

As well as the sticking point of the ceasefire, the Taliban did not discuss the need for talks with the Afghan government to reach a political settlement that the US believes is a core part of a deal.

The Taliban have repeatedly refused to talk to the Western-backed Afghan government, which they see as a puppet of the United States.

The US team, headed by special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, is in Kabul this week meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

After being toppled by a US-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban control about half of Afghanistan and are staging daily attacks amid the diplomacy.

Further talks are due to start in Qatar on February 25.

As well as the withdrawal of troops, the official said progress was made on addressing US concerns that Afghanistan is not used as a base by al Qaeda or Islamic State for attacks against the United States and its allies.

"That is why we came to Afghanistan in the first place," the official said.

Meanwhile, Ghani said the presence of foreign forces was based on an international agreement and they will not be required in the long term.

"No Afghans want foreign forces in their country for the long term," Ghani said in a televised address.

"The current presence of foreign forces is based on need, and this need has always been contemplated and will be contemplated ... and according to an exact and arranged plan we are trying to bring down that number to zero," he said.

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