June 21, 2018
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Taliban suspend US talks; Karzai calls for faster transition

By Ali Safi, McClatchy Newspapers

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban suspended negotiations with the United States on Thursday and Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on international troops to withdraw from villages in the latest apparent setbacks to U.S. policy in Afghanistan after an American soldier allegedly killed 16 villagers Sunday.

After meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul, Karzai said international troops should remain on their bases, according to a statement from his office, a move that could sharply curtail the forces’ ability to train Afghan soldiers and police and to carry out counterinsurgency operations, two pillars of the Obama administration’s exit strategy.

Karzai also called for transferring security responsibilities from U.S.-led coalition forces to Afghan soldiers and police by next year, a year earlier than scheduled.

The moves are part of the Pentagon’s broad transition plan, and U.S. officials downplayed Karzai’s comments, with one senior defense official saying that the Afghan leader “didn’t make any demands” in his meeting with Panetta. The official wasn’t authorized to be quoted by name.

Still, the statements appeared to put more pressure on U.S. officials to wind down the war even as concerns mount about the success of the training mission and the durability of the gains that American-led coalition forces have made against Taliban insurgents, particularly in southern Afghanistan.

White House spokesman Jay Carney sidestepped questions about Karzai’s comments, saying the U.S. remains committed to the existing timetable for withdrawal but leaving open the option of changes in details, such as when the allies turn over parts of the country to Afghan forces. President Barack Obama has suggested that U.S. forces would transition to a supporting role by next year and Afghan forces would be placed fully in control of security operations in 2014.

More damaging to the administration’s efforts, perhaps, was the statement by the Taliban saying they had suspended the opening of their office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar — which U.S. officials had described as a breakthrough on the way to a political settlement to the conflict — because they had lost faith in their American interlocutors.

U.S. officials have held secret talks with the Taliban for months, aiming to pave the way to Taliban negotiations with Karzai’s government, but the insurgent group said that an American representative in their most recent meeting had presented “a list of conditions … which were not acceptable.” It described the American negotiators as “shaky, erratic and vague.”

Carney denied that the United States had changed the terms of talks with the Taliban, saying they need to renounce support for al-Qaida and lay down their weapons before negotiations could proceed.

Steven Thomma, Matthew Schofield and Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this article from Washington.

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