Taliban negotiators say they will meet U.S. representatives in Pakistan on February 18 as part of ongoing Afghan peace talks, although a State Department official said the U.S. team had not yet received an invitation to the talks.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on February 13 said the meeting would take place in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, a week before the two sides are scheduled to hold negotiations in Qatar on February 25.
'While we have noted the Taliban's public announcement, we have not received a formal invitation to any talks,' a State Department spokesperson said.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said his side would also meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to hold 'comprehensive discussions about Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.'
As an Afghan neighbor and military power in the region, Islamabad would likely play a key role in any eventual settlement, and some 1.5 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan.
Talks between U.S. officials -- including Zalmay Khalilzad, the special peace envoy for Afghanistan -- have intensified in recent months. Khalilzad and Taliban envoys have both said progress has been made, but U.S. officials caution that much work needs to be done before an agreement can be finalized.
Khalilzad is due to arrive in Pakistan on a six-country trip that also includes Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, and Afghanistan.
Talks have also been held in Moscow with some of the same figures, although Khalilzad has not attended those discussions.
The U.S.-Taliban talks are aimed at finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan's 17-year war.
The United States has been attempting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with officials in Kabul.
The Afghan government has been absent from the U.S.-Taliban talks, prompting anger and frustration in Kabul. The Taliban considers the Kabul government a Western puppet and has so far refused to directly negotiate with it.
U.S. negotiators are expected to press for a cease-fire between Taliban insurgents and Western-backed Afghan forces before any agreement on the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops.
The Taliban has demanded that all foreign troops leave before a cease-fire is declared but have said they would accept nonmilitary foreign aid to help rebuild Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have said President Donald Trump wants to withdraw about half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The president has already announced that the United States will withdraw all 2,000 of its troops from Syria, saying he wants to reduce U.S. involvement in costly wars.
U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since an October 2001 invasion that brought down the Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaida members, including Osama bin Laden, blamed for launching the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The government in Kabul has struggled to contain the resurgent Taliban after a NATO-led coalition turned over military operations to Afghan troops and took a more-advisory and training role in the country.
With reporting by Reuters and AP RFE/RL
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