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Taliban: No Peace With 'Occupation'    08/18 12:21

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The leader of the Taliban said Saturday there 
will be no peace in Afghanistan as long as the foreign "occupation" continues, 
reiterating the group's position that the 17-year war can only be brought to an 
end through direct talks with the United States.

   In a message released in honor of the Eid al-Adha holiday, Maulvi 
Haibatullah Akhunzadah said the group remains committed to "Islamic goals," the 
sovereignty of Afghanistan and ending the war.

   The Taliban have had a major resurgence in recent years, seizing districts 
across the country and regularly carrying out large-scale attacks.

   Earlier this month, the Taliban launched a major assault on the city of 
Ghazni, just 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the capital, Kabul. Afghan security 
forces battled the militants inside the city for five days, as the U.S. carried 
out airstrikes and send advisers to help ground forces.

   The battle for Ghazni killed at least 100 members of the Afghan security 
forces and 35 civilians, according to Afghan officials.

   A year ago, President Donald Trump announced that he would send additional 
U.S. forces to confront the Taliban. But since then the insurgents' profile has 
risen, both on the battlefield and in the diplomatic sphere.

   The Taliban sent a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet with senior officials 
earlier this month, and say they recently met with a senior U.S. diplomat in 
Qatar for what they called "preliminary talks." The U.S. neither confirmed nor 
denied the meeting.

   Earlier this week, the Taliban's top political official, Sher Mohammad Abbas 
Stanikzai, led a delegation to Indonesia, where he met Foreign Minister Retno 
Marsudi as well as Jusuf Kalla, Indonesia's deputy president, according to a 
statement the Taliban sent to The Associated Press.

   The three day trip ended on Wednesday. The statement said Stanikzai 
discussed the presence of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and the need for 
them to leave if peace is to return to the country, said Suhail Shaheen, a 
spokesman based in the group's Qatar office.

   While in Indonesia, Stanikzai also "exchanged views on bilateral relations," 
Shaheen said in the statement, without elaborating.

   From 1996 until 2001, the Taliban ruled in accordance with a harsh 
interpretation of Islamic law. Women were barred from education and forced to 
wear the all-encompassing burka whenever they left their homes, and the country 
hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

   The Taliban have refused to enter into talks with the Afghan government, 
which they view as a U.S. puppet, saying they will only negotiate the end of 
the war directly with Washington. The group has said it is committed to 
regional security and would not pose a danger to other countries.

   However, it has also demanded the complete withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO 
forces. Although NATO officially ended its combat mission at the end of 2014, 
it has repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces, and it's unclear whether 
the government in Kabul would be able to remain in power without foreign 
military aid.


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