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Khalilzad in Kabul to save peace deal as US carries out airstrike on Taliban

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Wednesday for talks with Afghan leaders to save the fragile peace agreement as US air strikes on Taliban positions, Taliban attacks on Afghan forces and President Ashraf Ghani’s refusal to release Taliban prisoners raised concerns about the fate of the deal.

US forces spokesman Col Sonny Leggett tweeted that the US conducted an airstrike on Tuesday against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e-Saraj, Helmand province, who were actively attacking an Afghan National Defence Forces checkpoint. “This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack. This was our first strike against the Taliban in 11 days,” he said.

Taliban had announced resumption of attacks on Afghan forces on Monday but directed its fighters not to launch any attack on US and other foreign forces in the wake of agreement with them.

Taliban have evaded comments on the US strikes. However, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Taliban will implement agreement with the US. “The Islamic Emirate, according to the plan, will implement all parts of the agreement one after another to prevent the intensity of war. The other side must also remove the barriers to the implementation of all parts of the agreement. This is in order to pave the way for a countrywide peace and for Afghans to enjoy their fundamental rights,” he tweeted.

Earlier, Afghan officials said dozens of security personnel were killed in Taliban attacks in parts of the country after the insurgents resumed operations on the Afghan forces as a weeklong reduction in violence ended on Feb 29.

The problem started after President Ghani refused to free the Taliban prisoners as per US-Taliban deal. According to the agreement, up to 5,000 prisoners of the Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners of the other side are to be released by March 10, 2020, the first day of intra-Afghan negotiations.

It is now widely believed that increase in violence and political tensions between Ghani and his rivals can delay the intra-Afghan negotiations that will be a serious setback for the peace process.

It seems the Taliban have shown an angry reaction to Ghani’s rejection of the release of the Taliban detainees as a condition for the start of the intra-Afghan dialogue.

Khalilzad held talks with Afghan leaders after he arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit for the first time after he inked the landmark agreement with the Taliban at the weekend.

Afghan Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who received Khalilzad, said they discussed implementation of the US-Taliban agreement. “Joined by our leadership team, we held a productive meeting with Amb. Khalilzad. We appreciated American efforts for peace & the signing of the US-Taliban agreement. We also addressed issues relating to its implementation,” he tweeted, adding that the two sides also discussed the intra-Afghan process, confidence building measures and the crisis caused by the ‘illegal election results announcement based on fraudulent votes’.

Khalilzad also met former president Hamid Karzai, who welcomed signing of the US-Taliban peace agreement. Karzai expressed the hope for a series of consultations to prepare a list of participate for the intra-Afghani negotiations and to find a solution to the country’s problem.

Afghan sources say Khalilzad is trying to convince the Afghan leaders to agree on a consensus list of delegates to the intra-Afghan dialogue. President Ghani’s spokesman Dawa Khan Meenapal said last week a list of 15 people has been finalized, however, he did not divulge the names. A spokesman for Dr Abdulalh said they will prepare a list for the talks with the Taliban.

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