Afghan Taliban's biggest diplomatic forays since 2001

Afghan Taliban's biggest diplomatic forays since 2001

MOSCOW - Russia said on Tuesday that the Taliban had accepted an invitation for talks next month, in what promises to be one of the insurgent group’s biggest diplomatic forays since the 2001 US-led invasion.

The announcement of the planned talks comes as the Taliban have expanded their footprint across Afghanistan and launched an unrelenting wave of attacks, including a prolonged assault on Ghazni, a strategic city near Kabul, earlier this month.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow invited the Taliban to the Sept 4 talks and was hoping for “productive” negotiations. “The first reaction was positive, they are planning to take part in the meeting,” he added.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

Mr Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia’s contacts with the Taliban aimed to ensure the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan and encourage the insurgents to abandon hostilities and engage in a dialogue with the government.

He rejected claims by the Afghan government that Russia is hoping to use the Taliban to combat the militant Islamic State group. An IS affiliate in Afghanistan has staged several devastating attacks in recent years and has repeatedly clashed with the Taliban. The IS branch is seen as particularly threatening to Russia because it includes a large number of battle-hardened Uzbek militants.

“I can’t even hypothetically imagine how Russia could use the Taliban for fighting the IS,” Mr Lavrov said at a news conference. “We fight the IS with all means available, we support Syria in that struggle, we help equip the Iraqi army for the same goal and we naturally would like to see the people of Afghanistan getting rid of the IS.”