The US and the Taliban are on the brink of striking a deal after 18 years of war, Washington’s top negotiator said on Sunday. Zalmay Khalilzad said this ahead of a visit to Kabul where he was to meet with Afghan officials. “We are at the threshold of an agreement that will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honourable and sustainable peace,” tweeted Zalmay Khalilzad.
Taliban on Sunday attacked Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities, in a neighbouring province and killed at least 16 people. The Taliban launched the “massive attack” from several different points overnight, said Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, spokesman for the provincial police chief, who reported “intense gun battles” around the city.
Hours later the Afghan Defence minister, Asadullah Khalid, rejected speculation that Kunduz had collapsed. Security reinforcements had arrived in the morning from Kabul and “very soon” he would be able to announce that the city and surrounding areas were cleared of Taliban fighters, he told the local TOLO news channel.
Officials with the NATO mission in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a question about whether its forces were responding to the attack.
The Taliban have continued bloody assaults on civilians and security forces even as their leaders meet with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar to negotiate an end to nearly 18 years of war.
One Afghan analyst, former deputy interior minister Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, said the attack on Kunduz showed the Taliban are not interested in a cease-fire, which has been a key issue in the Qatar talks.
The United States in the negotiations has also sought Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan will no longer be a launching pad for terror attacks such as the September 11, 2001, attack on the US by al-Qaida. The Taliban government had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Some 20,000 US and NATO forces remain in Afghanistan after formally ending their combat role in 2014.
Fearing a return to power of the hardline Taliban, many worry the deal and subsequent negotiations will lead to a reduction in personal freedoms and limited women’s rights that modern Afghans have grown accustomed to.
US troops were first sent to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda, which was sheltered by the former Taliban regime. Washington now wants to end its military involvement—the longest in its history—and has been talking to the Taliban since at least 2018.