American diplomats held secret talks regarding the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan with the Taliban in Qatar, the group claimed yesterday.
Several members of the Taliban's political commission were part of the talks, including Alice Wells, the US State Department's senior South Asia diplomat. Other unidentified US diplomats were also present, according to two Taliban officials.
"The environment was positive and the discussion was useful", the Taliban officials said on condition of anonymity.
But the US government is playing down the idea that any peace talks took place. However, according to the New York Times, the US State Department did not deny that its diplomats had taken part in any talks. If talks did take place, it wold mark a major shift towards the Taliban, and an insinuation that the Americans may be interested to wrap up the longest conflict in US history.
"Any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government," Stephanie Newman, the US spokeswoman, said.
The conflict in Afghanistan began in 2001, it saw the US lead 40 other countries to fight Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces who they said were responsible for the armed attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration told its senior diplomats that they could kick start the process of negotiations with the Taliban. The Taliban have long-awaited direct talks with the US as a precondition to discuss their security concerns and the future of Afghanistan. According to the Mail Online, the Taliban are seeking a time frame for the withdrawal of some 15,000 US and NATO troops still in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan government led by US ally President Ashraf Ghani is ready to engage in peace talks with the Taliban, alongside the US to participate only as observers.
Qatar has maintained the Taliban's political office since 2013 in a bid to see an end to the conflict. But earlier this month, it reportedly agreed to take part in "Operation Resolute Support" to train and advise local Afghan forces.