19 Jun 2011

US in peace talks with Taliban, says Karzai

4:38 pm on 19 June 2011

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan says the United States is engaged in talks with the Taliban.

It's the first high-level confirmation of US involvement in the talks.

Washington has however refused to say so itself, though Western officials have privately acknowledged efforts to open up a communication channel with the Taliban's leaders.

Earlier this month, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said there could be political talks with the Taliban by the end of this year.

The US is due to start withdrawing its 97,000 troops from Afghanistan in July, with the aim of gradually handing over all security operations to Afghan security forces by 2014.

The New York Times is reporting that drone strikes and covert operations have weakened Afghanistan's al-Qaeda network and could justify an even earlier troop withdrawal.

Citing high-ranking officials, the newspaper says 20 of al-Qaeda's 30 prominent leaders in the region had been killed in the past year.

Nine die in suicide attack

Meanwhile, suicide bombers in army uniform have attacked a police compound in Kabul, killing nine people in the second major assault inside the Afghan capital in less than a month.

The Taliban, which has claimed responsibility for the assault, vowed last month to carry out attacks on foreign and Afghan troops and government officials. Several senior police commanders have been assassinated since the start of the year.

Officials say three policemen, an intelligence agent, and five civilians were killed in the latest attack. Two other policemen and 10 civilians were wounded.

Despite the presence of up to 150,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government.