Seeking to inject new energy into the long-stalled Afghan peace process, the top US diplomat who's helping find a way to end the war has met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, according to officials and a Taliban statement Saturday.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed via Twitter that two Afghan army positions in Poshtrod were overrun in an attack Saturday night, and said that 25 Afghan army soldiers were killed and 12 were taken prisoner while no Taliban fighters were killed.
"Keeping that in mind, efforts must be made towards a true and intra-Afghan solution. At the end both sides agreed to continue holding meetings in the future", the statement added.
Washington has neither confirmed nor denied the Qatar meeting, which came amid a renewed push by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table for peace talks with the Afghan government.
The violence has been on the rise as Afghan security forces struggle against a surge in attacks by militants as the country is preparing for parliamentary elections slated for Oct 20.
"Both sides discuss prospects of peace and the USA presence in Afghanistan", said another Taliban official, requesting anonymity.
The meeting Friday in the Qatar political office between Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, who heads the U.S.
"After the July meeting, there was another meeting between US and Taliban leaders scheduled in September".
Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US adviser and former USA ambassador to Afghanistan, briefed Ghani and Abdullah on October 13 about his meetings with senior ministers and top diplomats in four countries as part of a diplomatic mission aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
The High Peace Council meanwhile said the authority welcomes efforts by the United States envoy for Afghanistan's peace process. But these efforts still remain in the "talks about talks" phase.
"The good news is that there's never been a better opportunity. They were demanding to directly meet with the U.S. for a long time and they finally got it", said Afghan political analyst Atta Noori.
"The question is, what else can the USA and Afghanistan offer to the Taliban that is generous enough to the insurgents without being prohibitively risky to Washington and Kabul?".
Appointed in September as US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Khalilzad has in recent months met with representatives from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Afghanistan in a bid to forge a path to peace.
The Taliban claimed the attack. Nevertheless, seemingly endless USA operations have shown limited effectiveness at establishing an enduring peace in Afghanistan. "If the group [Taliban] is serious about the peace process it will do the same and punish those responsible", he said in a tweet.
At the request of the USA, a Taliban office was established in Doha in 2013 to facilitate peace talks but it was shut shortly after opening when it came under pressure over a flag hung outside the office, the same flag that was flown during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.