US Delegation to Meet the Taliban for the First Time

Two senior government officials told Reuters the US delegation would meet senior Taliban representatives in Doha on Saturday (9/10) and Sunday (10/10). It will be their first face-to-face meeting at senior level since Washington withdrew its troops from Afghanistan and the hardliners took over the country.

A high-level US delegation, which includes officials from the State Department, USAID and the US intelligence community, will pressure the Taliban to ensure safety for US citizens and others as they exit Afghanistan. They will also press the Taliban to release the kidnapped US citizen Mark Frerichs, officials said.

Another top priority is to hold the Taliban on to their commitment that they will not allow Afghanistan to become a hotbed for al-Qaeda or other extremists. It also pressured the group to increase access to humanitarian aid as Afghanistan faces a “really severe” prospect and may not be possible to prevent” an economic downturn, US officials said.

US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who for years spearheaded US dialogue with the Taliban and was a key figure in peace talks with the group, will not be part of the delegation.

The US team will include State Department Deputy Special Representative Tom West as well as top USAID humanitarian officer Sarah Charles. On the Taliban side, cabinet officials will attend, officials said.

“This meeting is a continuation of the pragmatic engagement with the Taliban we have had on issues of vital national interest,” said a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“This meeting is not about giving confessions or providing legitimacy. We remain clear that any legitimacy must be gained through the actions of the Taliban themselves. They need to build a sustainable track record,” the official said.

The United States’ two-decade occupation of Afghanistan culminated in an organized but hasty airlift in August. More than 124,000 civilians including Americans, Afghans and others were evacuated when the Taliban took over. But thousands of other US-allied Afghans left behind are at risk of persecution by the Taliban.

Washington and other Western countries are grappling with tough choices as a severe humanitarian crisis looms over Afghanistan. They are trying to formulate how to engage with the Taliban without giving it the legitimacy it seeks while ensuring humanitarian aid flows into the country.

Many Afghans have started selling their possessions to buy food, which is becoming increasingly scarce. [ah/rs]

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