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U.S. Peace Envoy In Kabul After 'Significant Progress' Made In Qatar

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is consulting with Afghan government officials following six days of talks with the Afghan Taliban in Qatar aimed at ending the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad traveled to the Afghan capital, Kabul, on January 27 after the envoy, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Taliban officials hailed progress toward peace.

Reuters, quoting a Qatari Foreign Ministry official, reported the talks were successful enough that the two sides have “agreed tentatively to reconvene on February 25.”

Highlighting the effort in a series of tweets, Khalilzad said on January 26 that the United States and the Taliban had made "significant progress," adding that the talks in Doha were "more productive than they have been in the past."

He also emphasized that the sides “have a number of issues left to work out” and that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

“Encouraging news from [Khalilzad],” the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted.

The top U.S. diplomat also wrote that the United States was “serious about pursuing peace, preventing Afghanistan from continuing to be a space for international terrorism & bringing home forces.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that while there was "progress" at the meetings, reports of an agreement on a cease-fire were "not true."

Mujahid also said in a statement that talks about "unresolved matters" will continue.

Until the withdrawal of international troops was hammered out, "progress in other issues is impossible," he insisted.

Earlier, unidentified Taliban sources quoted by the Reuters news agency said the two sides had finalized clauses to be included in a draft agreement.

They envisaged foreign forces withdrawing within 18 months of the deal being signed in return for assurances that Al-Qaeda and the extremist group Islamic State (IS) would not be allowed to use Afghanistan as a base to attack the United States and its allies.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has struggled to fend off a resurgent Taliban, as well as IS and Al-Qaeda militants, nearly two decades after a U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001.

The Taliban has so far refused to hold direct negotiations with the Afghan government officials, whom they dismiss as "puppets."

The militants say they will only begin talks with the government once a firm date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops has been agreed.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, AFP, and Reuters