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US envoy to resume talks with Taliban on ending Afghan war

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The United States envoy negotiating with the Taliban for an end to nearly 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan was departing Tuesday for Qatar to resume talks, the State Department said, amid concerns about a growing threat by an Islamic State affiliate.

Zalmay Khalilzad also will visit with the Afghan government, which has been sidelined from the talks, to discuss the “peace process and encourage full preparation for intra-Afghan negotiations,” the U.S. said.

In Washington, President Donald Trump told reporters he believes the Taliban insurgents are eager to stop fighting and that they could “very easily” prevent Afghanistan from being a breeding ground for terrorism. The U.S. will, nonetheless, keep a close eye on Taliban influence, he said, even as it thins its troop presence.

“That’s what we have to watch. And we’ll always have intelligence, and we’ll always have somebody there,” Trump said.

The new talks in Qatar, where the insurgent group has a political office, come after a horrific suicide bombing at a wedding in Kabul over the weekend. The blast, claimed by the IS affiliate that has emerged as a brutal threat in recent years, led outraged Afghans to question whether a U.S.-Taliban deal would mean peace for long-suffering civilians.

Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest conflict in 2018, and the United Nations has said more civilians died last year than in the past decade. Afghan officials have said Saturday’s bombing killed more than 63. Over 32,000 civilians have been killed in the past 10 years.

The Pentagon’s special inspector general for Afghanistan, meanwhile, reported Tuesday that the conflict remains largely a stalemate, with the Taliban unable to expand their territorial holdings and the Afghan government forces unable to reclaim lost land.

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