October 27, 2019 / 7:17 AM / 23 days ago

Top U.S. negotiator in Kabul to brief Afghan government

KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s top negotiator for Afghanistan was in Kabul on Sunday to brief the Afghan president on peace efforts on his first trip back since Trump ended talks with the Taliban aimed at ending America’s longest war.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo

The visit by Zalmay Khalilzad comes after a flurry of low-key meetings that he has held, including with the Taliban this month in neighboring Pakistan.

“The aim of his visit is clear, to report to President Ghani on his recent visits and meetings in some countries regarding the Afghan peace process,” an official in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office said.

Talks with the Taliban on a plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban security guarantees were halted by Trump last month following the death of a U.S. soldier and 11 other people in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.

Before the U.S.-Taliban talks broke off, both sides said they were close to reaching a deal, despite concerns among some U.S. security officials and Afghan government officials that a U.S. withdrawal could bring more conflict and a resurgence of Islamist militant factions.

The Taliban have refused to talk to Ghani’s government, denouncing it as a U.S. puppet.

Khalilzad had been pressing the Taliban to declare a ceasefire with Afghan government forces and make a commitment to power-sharing talks. The Taliban said that would follow a deal on the withdrawal of all foreign forces.

The Taliban were ready to stand by the tentative agreement struck before Trump canceled the talks, according to Pakistani officials and sources militant group sources, who said the insurgents were eager to resume negotiations.

Trump too, despite calling off the talks, is keen to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which began weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The United States has about 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast

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