KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan said on Thursday he had struck an agreement with the insurgent Taliban to “re-set” their commitments under a troop withdrawal deal and reduce the number of casualties in the country, which has seen heavy fighting in southern Helmand province.
This week, the Taliban launched a major offensive in Helmand, attempting to take the provincial capital and ensuing fighting had displaced thousands of civilians.
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter that he and General Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had held several meetings with the Taliban.
“We agreed to re-set actions by strictly adhering to implementation of all elements of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement and all commitments made,” he said. “At present too many Afghans are dying. With the re-set, we expect that number to drop significantly.”
This week the United States took part in airstrikes against the Taliban at the start of the offensive in Helmand, during which Taliban forces took major checkpoints and closed in on the provincial capital.
A February deal between the United States and the Taliban said foreign forces would leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula with the Afghan government.
Diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence is sapping the trust required for successful peace talks in Doha.
In a sign that negotiations were continuing, a Taliban spokesman and an Afghan government negotiator said on Wednesday some of their negotiators had met after a pause to discuss disputed issues and “present solutions”.
But a tweet last week by President Donald Trump calling for U.S. troops to be home by Christmas has given the Taliban the upper hand in negotiations, the top Afghanistan peace official told the Financial Times newspaper.
“Nobody has given any clarity,” Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said in an interview published by the Financial Times on Thursday.
The Taliban “might see it in their advantage” and come back by force if the United States withdrew, he said.
A senior Afghan government official who declined to be named said Trump’s demands on Twitter were “impractical”.
“(It) contradicts realities on the ground and it was purely for a U.S. audience and it does not reflect on overall U.S. policy for Afghanistan,” he said.
Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Hamid Shalizi and Orooj Hakimi; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Toby Chopra
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