Taliban now 'ready' for peace talks with the US
The Taliban has said it is ready to restart peace talks with the United States, a day after President Donald Trump visited troops in Afghanistan and said he believed the group would agree to a ceasefire.
Mr Trump's surprise Thanksgiving Day visit was his first to Afghanistan since becoming president and came a week after a prisoner swap between Washington and Kabul that raised hopes for a long elusive peace deal to end the 18-year war.
"The Taliban wants to make a deal and we are meeting with them," Mr Trump said after arriving in Afghanistan on Thursday.
"We say it has to be a ceasefire and they didn't want to do a ceasefire and now they want to do a ceasefire, I believe. It will probably work out that way," he said.
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Mr Trump cancelled peace negotiations in September after the militant group claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier.
However, his visit came after a prisoner swap with the Taliban aimed at resuming peace negotiations.
Earlier this month, two Western academics who had been held hostage since 2016 - American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks - were released in exchange for three imprisoned senior Taliban militants.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the hardline Islamist insurgent group, said yesterday it was "ready to restart the talks".
"Our stance is still the same. If peace talks start, it will be resumed from the stage where it had stopped," he said.
Taliban leaders say the group has been holding meetings with senior US officials in Doha, Qatar since last weekend, adding they could soon resume formal peace talks.
"We are hoping that Trump's visit to Afghanistan will prove that he is serious to start talks again. We don't think he has much of a choice," said a senior Taliban commander on conditions of anonymity.
Mr Trump did not answer reporters' questions when he returned yesterday morning to Florida, where he is spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend away from Washington.
There are currently about 13,000 US forces as well as thousands of other Nato troops in Afghanistan, 18 years after a US-led coalition invaded the country following the September 11, 2001, al-Qa'ida attacks on the United States.
A draft accord agreed in September would have thousands of American troops withdrawn in exchange for guarantees that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the US or its allies.
Still, many US officials doubt the Taliban could be relied upon to prevent al-Qa'ida from again plotting attacks against the US from Afghan soil.