The Afghan Ministry of Defense reported Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces in 18 separate provinces over the weekend. The reports come as Taliban forces sat with Afghan and U.S. government representatives in the open days of peace talk in Doha, Qatar.

Rohullah Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said in statement to TOLONews that “the Afghan security and defense forces repelled the Taliban’s attacks and inflicted heavy losses on the group.”

Riaz Rabbani, head of the Kunduz provincial council said of attacks in Uruzgan, Kunduz and Helmand provinces that “armed opponents launched attacks on the security and defense forces, but the Taliban were repelled by the Afghan Air Force, which resulted in the killing of at least five Taliban fighters.”

Likewise was the report from Uruzgan, the historic heartland of the Taliban, where a spokesman for the governor reported that while armed groups launched attacks, the Afghan security and defense forces were able to repel them with no casualties. 

This new wave of attacks is most likely a form of saber rattling intended to put pressure on U.S. and Afghan government officials to acquiesce to the organization’s demands.

Lotufullah Mashal, a former frontman of the National Directorate of Security said in an interview with TOLONews that “the Taliban want to show their military power during the negotiations, they want to show that if you do not accept our demands, then [they] have the capacity to attack at any time and at any place.” 

Photo: Al Jazeera

What’s on the Table with the Doha Peace Talks?

The intra-Afghan peace negotiations began on Saturday, September 12th in Doha, Qatar. In addition to a contingent of Afghan government officials, U.S. government representatives, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were in attendance. The Taliban’s negotiating team is composed of 21 Taliban members. It is the first time since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001 that members of the three parties have sat for face-to-face meetings. 

Leading the Taliban members is Mawlavi Abdul Hakim Haqqani. A native of Kandahar, Haqqani is recognized as being one of the founding members of the Taliban and is known to have been a close friend and confidant to the organization’s founding leader Mullah Omar. 

In fact, many members of the Taliban delegation have deep roots in the organization. Five of the 21-man delegation were once held by U.S. forces at the prison in Guantanamo Bay. 

The first item on the agenda is striking a comprehensive ceasefire agreement. In many ways, it is a precondition to the complex set of criteria to which all the parties must adhere in order for the negotiations to be successful. 

Pursuant to the ceasefire, the United States will commit to a complete withdrawal of all U.S., allied and coalition forces — including non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private contractors and advisors — within fourteen months of the agreement. The agreement also supposes that the U.S. will release combat and political prisoners and will refrain from the threat of force against the “territorial integrity or political independence of Afghanistan.”

In turn, the Taliban will be responsible for ensuring that non-state actors — including al-Qaeda — will not operate inside Afghanistan in ways that would “threaten the security of the United States and its allies” and will prevent them from recruiting, training, and fundraising.

The agreement also reads that the Taliban will not provide entry or  travel documents such as visas, passports, or travel permits to anyone who should “pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies.”

Photo: Reuters

Secretary Pompeo: “A Sovereign, Unified and Representative Afghanistan.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the group at the opening ceremonies, underscoring the need for the process to be led by the Afghan delegations while underscoring the United States’ commitment to the peace process.

“Today is truly a momentous occasion,” Secretary Pompeo began. “Afghans have at long last chosen to sit together and chart a new course for your country. This is a moment that we must dare to hope.  As we look toward the light, we recall the darkness of four decades of war and the lost lives and opportunities, but it is remarkable and a testament to the human spirit that the pain and patterns of destruction are no match for the enduring hopes for peace held by all Afghan people and their many friends.

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“The United States will never forget the solidarity of our many allies and partners who have stood with us in the long struggle to end this war. Today we want to also honor and remember them. Nor will we, the United States, ever forget September 11th.  We welcome the Taliban commitment not to host international terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, nor to allow them to use Afghan territory to train, recruit, or to fundraise.”

Secretary Pompeo concluded saying that the “United States is a proponent of a sovereign, unified, and representative Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and with its neighbors.”

But in a Q&A with the traveling press on his way to Qatar on September 11th, Secretary Pompeo did not rule out future engagements in Afghanistan.  

When asked if the U.S. would send troops back to Afghanistan if necessary, he replied, “the President’s said that whether it’s a year from now or three years from now, if there is a risk to the United States of America, we’ll go in and we’ll take care of business.”

“If they put Americans at risk, we’re going to come at them and we’re going to come at them hard,” he told one reporter. 

He referred to those who had carried out the recent attacks in Afghanistan as “spoilers,” saying that their aim was to keep the United States “mired” in the region. 

Secretary Pompeo seemed confident that the Taliban would uphold their part of the peace agreement. “We have every expectation that they will follow through on them,” he said. “Our commitment to reduce our forces to zero is conditioned on them executing their obligations under the agreement.  So we’re very clear about their responsibilities with respect to terrorist activity taking place in Afghanistan that is plotting external operations.”

“I’m mindful of how difficult these conversations will be among the Afghans,” he added. “It’s theirs for the taking. It’s their country to figure out how to move forward and make a better life for all Afghan people.”