World- Top US officials hold face to face talks with Afghan Taliban

World- Top US officials hold face to face talks with Afghan Taliban

Top Biden administration officials met in-person with the Taliban on Saturday for the first time since Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by the US in his apartment in Kabul in late July, two officials familiar with the talks said, reported CNN on Sunday.

The US administration sent the CIA’s deputy director and the top State Department official responsible for Afghanistan to the Qatari capital of Doha for the talks with the Taliban delegation which included their head of intelligence, Abdul Haq Wasiq.

After Zawahiri was killed in a strike, the US accused the Taliban of a “clear and blatant violation of the Doha agreement,” brokered by the Trump administration, which said that the Taliban would not harbor terrorists if US forces withdrew from Afghanistan, which they did in August 2021.

After a US drone fired fatal Hellfire missiles at Zawahiri, American officials accused Taliban leaders from the Haqqani network of knowing about Zawahiri’s whereabouts while the Taliban angrily condemned the operation.

Since then, the US has continued to engage with the Taliban, including negotiating the release of US citizen Mark Frerichs. But senior officials had not met face-to-face since a few days before Zawahiri was killed on July 31.

The presence of CIA Deputy Director David Cohen and the Taliban’s Wasiq at the meeting on Saturday indicates an emphasis on counterterrorism. The White House last month called cooperation with the Taliban on counterterrorism “a work in progress.”

Cohen was accompanied by the State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, who has often led engagement with the Taliban since the US withdrawal last year.

Frerichs was released almost three weeks ago after more than two years in captivity, with help from Qatar. Administration officials said they said spent months negotiating with the Taliban for his release and had warned the Taliban after the strike about harming Frerichs. The best way to rebuild trust, they said they told the Taliban, would be to release him.

At least one other American, a filmmaker named Ivor Shearer, is currently being held by the Taliban after being arrested with his Afghan producer, Faizullah Faizbakhsh, filming in the area where Zawahiri was killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Shearer had reportedly been summoned several times by the Taliban for questioning before his detention.

The CIA and State Department declined to comment.

While the Taliban maintains ties with Al-Qaeda, they are facing an insurgency from the Islamic State offshoot known as ISIS-K. The group has routinely targeted the Hazara ethnic minority in Afghanistan. At least 25 people, primarily young women, were killed in a suicide attack last week at an education centre in a predominantly Hazara neighbourhood in Kabul. No one immediately claimed responsibility.

“The Taliban are struggling to prevent ISIS-K attacks, making them look feckless, particularly in Kabul,” says Beth Sanner.