US and Taliban ‘at the threshold’ of deal to end Afghan war

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A US envoy says diplomats are “at the threshold” of a deal with the Taliban to end America’s longest war – the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan.

A draft US-Taliban agreement was shown to Afghan leaders on Monday.

It came after another round of US-Taliban talks ended without a final agreement at the weekend.

The two sides have met nine times in Qatar.

America and the Taliban went to war in 2001 after al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Centre in New York, sparking a US invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the then Taliban government which was sheltering Osama bin Laden.

US and Taliban 'at the threshold' of deal to end Afghan war
A member of the Afghan security force stands in front of a poster of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani

The Afghan government has been shut out of the negotiations as the Taliban dismisses it as a US puppet.

The US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, has met Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani to discuss progress made during the talks.

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Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told reporters the government would study the deal to make sure it addresses the goals of a lasting ceasefire and direct talks with the Taliban in the near future.

Mr Ghani is expected to address the media on Monday afternoon. He is running for a new term in elections in late September.

It came as the Taliban attacked the capitals of Kunduz and Baghlan provinces in the north over the weekend.

The insurgent group is at its strongest since the 2001 US-led invasion.

The Taliban, which now controls or holds sway over roughly half of Afghanistan, has stepped up attacks in recent months to strengthen its negotiating position.

US and Taliban 'at the threshold' of deal to end Afghan war
US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad (L), meets Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul

The United Nations and others say civilians have often been caught in the cross-fire as government forces, backed by the US, have hit the militants with airstrikes and raids.

Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest conflict in 2018.

The Taliban wants all of the estimated 20,000 US and NATO forces to leave the country.

The US has demanded a Taliban assurance that Afghanistan will not be a safe haven for extremists planning attacks on the West after troops have left.

A ceasefire is also on the agenda.

The fighting continued on Monday outside the Baghlan capital of Puli Khumri with at least 47 taken to hospitals since the attack began on Sunday morning.