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Top US officials hold first in-person meeting with the Taliban since the US killed al Qaeda’s leader in July


Prime Biden administration officers met in-person with the Taliban on Saturday for the primary time since al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by the US in his residence in Kabul in late July, two officers aware of the talks stated.

The administration despatched the CIA’s deputy director and the highest State Division official answerable for Afghanistan to the Qatari capital of Doha for the talks with the Taliban delegation which included their head of intelligence, Abdul Haq Wasiq.

After Zawahiri was killed in a strike, the US accused the Taliban of a “clear and blatant violation of the Doha settlement, “brokered by the Trump administration, which stated that the Taliban wouldn’t harbor terrorists if US forces withdrew from Afghanistan, which they did in August 2021.

After a US drone fired deadly Hellfire missiles at Zawahiri, American officers accused Taliban leaders from the Haqqani community of realizing about Zawahiri’s whereabouts whereas the Taliban angrily condemned the operation.

Since then, the US has continued to have interaction with the Taliban, together with negotiating the discharge of US citizen Mark Frerichs. However senior officers had not met face-to-face since just a few days earlier than Zawahiri was killed on July 31.

The presence of CIA Deputy Director David Cohen and the Taliban’s Wasiq on the assembly on Saturday signifies an emphasis on counterterrorism. The White Home final month known as cooperation with the Taliban on counterterrorism “a piece in progress.”

Cohen was accompanied by the State Division’s Particular Consultant for Afghanistan, Tom West, who has usually led engagement with the Taliban for the reason that US withdrawal final 12 months.

Frerichs was launched virtually three weeks in the past after greater than two years in captivity, with assist from Qatar. Administration officers stated they stated spent months negotiating with the Taliban for his launch and had warned the Taliban after the strike about harming Frerichs. One of the best ways to rebuild belief, they stated they instructed the Taliban, could be to launch him.

No less than one different American, a filmmaker named Ivor Shearer, is at present being held by the Taliban after being arrested together with his Afghan producer, Faizullah Faizbakhsh, filming within the space the place Zawahiri was killed, in line with the Committee to Defend Journalists. Shearer had reportedly been summoned a number of instances by the Taliban for questioning earlier than his detention.

The CIA and State Division declined to remark.

Whereas the Taliban maintains ties with al Qaeda, they’re going through an insurgency from the Islamic State offshoot often known as ISIS-Okay. The group has routinely focused the Hazara ethnic minority in Afghanistan. No less than 25 folks, primarily younger girls, had been killed in a suicide assault final week at an training heart in a predominantly Hazara neighborhood in Kabul. Nobody instantly claimed accountability.

“The Taliban are struggling to stop ISIS-Okay assaults, making them look feckless, significantly in Kabul,” says Beth Sanner, a former Deputy Director of Nationwide Intelligence who led Afghanistan evaluation on the CIA. Sanner can be a CNN contributor.

“[Cohen] is more likely to ship a agency message that we are going to conduct extra strikes as we did towards Zawahiri if we discover that al Qaeda members in Afghanistan are supporting operations that threaten the US or its allies,” Sanner stated. “ISIS-Okay now poses an inner Afghan menace, to the Taliban and to sectarian stability given ISIS-Okay’s give attention to killing Shias, however there’s some affordable concern that ISIS-Okay might in the end flip its sights on exterior plotting if the Taliban is unable to include them.”

Final month the Biden administration introduced it had arrange a $3.5 billion “Afghan Fund” with frozen Afghan cash to advertise financial stability. The funds have but to be launched as a result of the US doesn’t imagine there’s a trusted establishment to ensure the funds will profit the Afghan folks, two officers instructed CNN.

As an alternative it will likely be administered by an out of doors physique, impartial of the Taliban and the nation’s central financial institution.

Administration officers have additionally repeatedly raised the plight of girls and ladies of their conversations with the Taliban. The United Nations rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan final month known as the regression of girls and ladies in Afghan society “staggering.”

“In no different nation have girls and ladies so quickly disappeared from all spheres of public life,” Bennett stated. “Regardless of this, girls and ladies stay on the forefront of efforts to take care of human rights and proceed to name for accountability.”

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