U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul on Wednesday to launch an “accelerated effort” to get Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict to the negotiation table to plot a road map to a postwar Afghanistan.
His next stop will be Doha, Qatar, where he will restart talks with the Taliban, according to a State Department statement. The talks would be the first official round since September when President Trump declared that what was thought to be a done deal was dead after a surge in violence killed 12 people in Kabul, the capital, including a U.S. soldier.
In Kabul on Wednesday, Khalilzad met with several Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, who repeated his call for a cease-fire.
Hekmat Karzai, chairman of the Kabul-based Center for Conflict and Peace Studies, tweeted photographs of his meeting with Khalilzad, saying they “spoke about the way forward.”
A Taliban official said the group has held informal talks with the Americans, without specifying where or who participated. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the talks.
Khalilzad’s visit came just days after Trump visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan for the Thanksgiving holiday, when he hinted at a resumption of peace talks with the Taliban.
Trump said the U.S. and Taliban have been engaged in talks and insisted the Taliban wants to make a deal after coming under heavy U.S. fire in recent months.
The State Department statement said Khalilzad’s Kabul and Doha talks are a follow-up to Trump’s recent visit and would include discussions on how to quickly get all the affected parties to join negotiations.
In Doha, Khalilzad will be pushing for a cease-fire or at least a reduction in violence with an eye to an eventual end to fighting.
The Taliban official said the U.S. has been pressing for a cease-fire, even a temporary one during the time of an agreement signing. Although there has been no formal announcement of a reduction in violence, Taliban attacks at least in the cities appear to have decreased in recent weeks.
Last month, Taliban officials in the southern province of Zabul announced an unofficial cease-fire in three districts of the province, which they mostly control, and released two hostages, an American and an Australian, in exchange for senior Taliban leaders.
Still, the Taliban have rejected an all-out cease-fire and have continued to conduct near daily attacks around the country against Afghan National Security Forces. And U.S. and Afghan forces also have continued their assault on Taliban, according to daily activity reports from the U.S. military in Afghanistan.