Fresh bid set to bring Afghans to table for peace deal
Rival Afghans will meet Sunday in Qatar, officials said, ina fresh attempt to make political headway as the United States seeks a peace dealwith the Taliban within three months.
President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast Mondaythat he wants to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, but will leave a strongintelligence presence there to counter what he termed the "Harvard of terrorists."
The Taliban, who on Monday killed six people with a powerfulbomb targeted at Afghanistan's defense ministry, have refused to negotiate withPresident Ashraf Ghani, and a previous attempt to bring the insurgents togetherwith government officials in Doha collapsed in April in a dispute overattendees.
Germany, a key player in international support for thepost-Taliban government, and Qatar, which maintains contacts with themilitants, said that they jointly extended invitations for a dialogue in Dohaon Sunday and Monday.
The Afghans "will participate only in their personalcapacity and on an equal footing," Markus Potzel, Germany's specialrepresentative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in a statement releasedMonday by the United States.
"Afghanistan stands at a critical moment of opportunityfor progress towards peace," he said.
"An essential component of any process leading to thisobjective will be direct engagement between Afghans," he said.
The meeting comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeopaid a previously unannounced visit last week to Kabul where he voiced hope fora peace deal with the Taliban "before September 1."
The ambitious timeframe would allow a deal beforeAfghanistan holds elections in September, which Western officials fear couldinject a new dose of instability.
Trump wants to pull all US troops from Afghanistan,believing that America's longest war — launched after the September 11, 2001attacks — no longer makes military or financial sense.
But he said the US will "be leaving very strongintelligence, far more than you would normally think," in an interviewwith the Fox News Channel's "Tucker Carlson Tonight."
"It just seems to be a lab for terrorists… I call itthe Harvard of terrorists," Trump said.
The Taliban have refused to halt their violence, believingthat they have the upper hand as the United States is eager to leave.
Monday's bombing was followed by Taliban gunmen storming anearby building, trigging a gunbattle with special forces.
The bombing and shootout wounded dozens of people, including50 children, most of whom were hurt by flying glass, officials said.
Save the Children branded the strike "utterlydeplorable," warning that "children's smaller bodies sustain moreserious injuries than adults" and that the trauma of such attacks can staywith them for years.