Wed, 12 Aug 2020

The Taliban says it has held a video conference call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during which the militant group reaffirmed its commitment to the peace process in Afghanistan.

Spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a tweet on Tuesday that the Taliban and the top U.S. diplomat held the call the day before as they look to clear the way for peace talks as laid out in a February agreement between Washington and the militants.

'We are committed to starting inter-Afghan talks, as we have said before, but delays in the release of prisoners have delayed inter-Afghan talks,' Shaheen wrote, referring to a pledge by Afghan authorities to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a condition to start the talks.

The U.S. State Department has yet to confirm the call.

The February deal provides for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and is intended to pave the way for peace talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

Under the accord, the United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan from 12,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July. If the rest of the deal goes through, all U.S. and other foreign troops will exit Afghanistan by mid-2021.

The call comes as U.S. President Donald Trump faces mounting pressure to explain why he did nothing after being reportedly told that Russian agents had offered and paid cash to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. soldiers.

Shaheen did not specifically say whether the two sides spoke about the reports. However, he did say that the group's Qatar-based chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, reiterated a pledge made in the February deal not to strike U.S. forces.

'Mullah Baradar Akhund noted that according to the agreement, we will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against the security of the United States and other countries,' he wrote in one of a series of tweets on the video call.

The New York Times reported last week that U.S. intelligence officials concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence offered the bounties to Taliban-linked militants.

The newspaper, citing anonymous U.S. officials briefed on the matter, reported that a secret unit of Russia's military intelligence linked to assassination attempts in Europe and other activities offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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