Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday he was told by the US Secretary of State that “notable progress” had been made during continuing talks between the United States and the Taliban.
In a post on Twitter, Ghani wrote that Mike Pompeo had informed him in a telephone call that the Taliban had made a proposal “with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence,” as US aims to strike a deal to withdraw its troops from the war-torn country.
Ghani’s tweet indicated a possible breakthrough in US-Taliban talks in Qatar, which have been deadlocked in part over a US demand that the armed group agree to significantly reduce violence as part of any American troop withdrawal accord.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the Taliban launched an armed rebellion after it was deposed in a US-led invasion in 2001. The US had accused the then-Taliban government of providing a safe haven to former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was considered a mastermind of deadly 9/11 attacks.
US President Donald Trump has made a withdrawal of the 13,000 US service members from Afghanistan a significant foreign policy objective. An agreement with the Taliban could boost Trump’s re-election prospects this November.
“US talks with the Taliban in Doha continue around the specifics of a reduction in violence,” a State Department spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Taliban officials were not immediately available to comment.
In his tweet, Ghani wrote that Pompeo told him “of the notable progress made in the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.”
“The Secretary informed me about the Taliban’s proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence,” he continued, adding in another tweet, “This is a welcoming development.”
Ghani, who did not disclose details of the proposal, appeared to take credit for the development, writing that “our principal position on peace thus far has begun to yield fruitful results.”
Asked about Ghani’s comments, Robert O’Brien, the White House national security adviser, reiterated that Trump was seeking to withdraw US forces from the country, but said on Tuesday evening: “I don’t think there’s any imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
The Afghan president had called on the Taliban to agree to a nationwide ceasefire, a demand also made by Trump in September when he scuttled months of negotiations with the armed group led by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The Taliban, however, steadfastly rejected the demand. In the talks that resumed in December in Doha, Qatar’s capital, US negotiators have pressed the armed group to agree to a significant reduction in violence.
A US troop withdrawal pact would be followed by talks between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation that included government officials on a settlement to decades of war, US officials have said.
The Taliban has so far refused to speak to the West-backed government in Kabul, saying they are a “puppet regime”.