U.S. officials 'pause' Taliban talks after suicide attack

KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. negotiators are taking a “brief pause” from talks with the Taliban after the militants launched a suicide attack on a U.S. base outside Kabul killing two civilians, Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said on Friday.

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

Khalilzad had renewed talks with the Taliban earlier this month on steps that could lead to a ceasefire and a settlement of the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan.

“I met Talibs today, I expressed outrage about attack on Bagram,” Khalilzad wrote on Twitter, referring to the attack on Bagram air base on Wednesday which killed two people and injured more than 70 others.

“We’re taking a brief pause for them to consult their leadership on this essential topic,” he added.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Friday’s meeting was “very good and friendly”.

“Both sides decided to resume the talks after a few days of break for consultation,” he said.

The assault on Bagram base came despite the resumption of talks between the United States and the insurgent group days before in Qatar, as the parties look for a path to reduce violence or even reach a ceasefire, allowing a gradual withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan.

Peace negotiations began earlier this year, though U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly suspended talks in September citing an attack in Kabul in which an American soldier was killed.

Trump paid a surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan last month and said the United States and the Taliban had been engaged in ongoing peace talks and the Taliban wanted a ceasefire.

Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, security officials and more than 2,400 American service members have been killed in the almost two-decade-old war.

There are currently about 13,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan as well as thousands of other NATO troops.

U.S. officials have said U.S. forces could drop to 8,600 and still carry out an effective, core counter-terrorism mission as well as some limited advising for Afghan forces.

Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Stephen Coates