US envoy hopes for peace deal with Taliban in 2019, says media

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The Taliban have held three days of talks with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in the Gulf state of Qatar, where the Afghan insurgent group has a political office, a Taliban official and another individual close to the group said Sunday.

The effort has intensified since Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Kabul, was appointed a special USA envoy to Afghanistan in September.

Back in Kabul after a second round of regional meetings that are believed to have included the Taliban, Afghan-born Khalilzad said he remained "cautiously optimistic" for an end to the 17-year conflict.

Two senior USA officials confirmed that the second round of peace talks ended last week and the Taliban expected Khalilzad to visit Qatar for a meeting before the end of 2018.

The meetings were reportedly attended by Taliban leaders Khairullah Khairkhwa and Mohammad Afzal.

The Taliban has a political office in the capital Doha that serves as a de-facto embassy.

The government forces in crackdown against militants, launched well-coordinated offensives against Taliban in Chakhat Payen area of Ashkamesh district in the northern Takhar province early Saturday and besides recapturing several villages also killed five militants forcing the militant group to flee the area, provincial police spokesman Abdul Khalil Asir said. Progress toward reconciliation with the Taliban also as scant.

Khairkhwah and Fazl were among five senior Taliban members released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in 2014 in exchange for U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban after walking off his base in Afghanistan in 2009. But that strategy has had little if any impact on the ground, with the Taliban keeping up a steady tempo of attacks and an Islamic State affiliate carrying out massive bombings targeting minority Shiites.

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Afghanistan's Taliban has long refused US demands to negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul.

"Rumors which are circulating these days about the establishment of an interim administration or the postponement of presidential elections are baseless", added Chakhansuri.

Abdul Sattar Sirat, an ethnic Tajik and Islamic scholar, was suggested as a candidate to lead an interim administration. The releases are widely seen as a US-directed move aimed at encouraging the Taliban to participate in talks.

Over the past two days, Khalilzad has met with a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the country, including the president and political party leaders.

Khalilzad is trying to cobble together a negotiating team comprising influential Afghans to reassure the US-backed government in Kabul that it will not be shut out of a peace process.

Although the Taliban have rejected rumors about their participation in the future government and the establishment of the interim government, the group confirmed that they met a high level U.S. delegation on the 14, 15 and 16 of November.

November 18:In what could be perceived as a major setback to U.S military intervention in Afghanistan to contain Taliban, a high ranking official in the United States military has said that Taliban is ot losing in Afghanistan and the stalemate reached a year ago has not changed much.

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