Afghan Taliban calls for direct talks with the US

Afghan Taliban fighters listen to Mullah Mohammed Rasool, who was elected leader of a breakaway faction of the Taliban, in Farah province, Afghanistan in November, 2017. (AP, File)
Updated 27 February 2018

Afghan Taliban calls for direct talks with the US

KABUL: The Taliban has called for direct talks with the US to find a “peaceful solution” to the conflict in Afghanistan, in an apparent policy reversal after months of escalating attacks.
Civilian casualties surged in recent months as militants from the Taliban, as well as Daesh group, unleashed a wave of bloodshed in urban areas and on security forces in response to a new open-ended military policy by US President Donald Trump.
In a statement posted late Monday, the Taliban said it “calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary,” using its official name.
There has been no response to the offer from US officials, who have historically insisted any talks must include the Afghan government in Kabul.
The call for talks comes a day before the second round of a regional peace conference in Kabul, where representatives from 25 countries will discuss counter-terrorism and conflict resolution strategies.
The Taliban published an open letter to the American people and the US Congress earlier February, suggesting the insurgents may be ready for talks.
The apparent openness to negotiations is unusual for the militant group, which has repeatedly stated that it will not enter talks until foreign troops leave the country.
Unveiling his new Afghan strategy last August, Trump said the US presence in Afghanistan would remain open-ended, as Washington stepped up strikes on militant strongholds.
In January, Trump ruled out holding talks with the Taliban, after a spate of assaults in Kabul.
The attacks included an assault on the capital’s luxury Intercontinental Hotel, an ambulance bomb in a crowded street and a raid on a military compound, that killed more than 130 people.
As violence intensifies nationwide, the Afghan capital will host the Kabul Process Wednesday, focusing on rebooting peace talks and uniting regional countries in the fight against terrorism.
“At the Kabul conference, we will present a comprehensive peace plan for Taliban and Pakistan,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday.
The conference follows an earlier meeting held in June last year.


Bomb ‘intended to kill police’ detonates on Northern Ireland border

Updated 5 min 47 sec ago

Bomb ‘intended to kill police’ detonates on Northern Ireland border

LONDON: An explosive device described as an attempted trap for security forces detonated in a village on the Northern Ireland border on Monday, but failed to injure anyone.
Police and bomb disposal experts had been working in the area of Newtownbutler over the weekend since receiving an initial report about a suspect device on Saturday.
“I am of the firm belief this was a deliberate attempt to lure police and ATO (Anti-Terrorism Officer) colleagues into the area to murder them,” Stephen Martin from the Police Service of Northern Ireland said in a statement.
Martin later told reporters that two Irish republican dissident groups, the New IRA and the Continuity IRA, “would be a very good starting point for the investigation.”
He added: “It’s fair to say their level of activity has increased this year.”
Concerns have grown that the possible return of a hard border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit could increase security tensions in the once war-torn province.
Martin said violent attacks had grown in recent months, calling on politicians to take action to heal enduring divisions in society.
“Terrorism of this nature is a societal problem,” he said. “We shouldn’t take our peace for granted.”
Three decades of conflict known as “the Troubles,” in which more than 3,500 people were killed, largely ended in Northern Ireland with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Violent incidents have continued, however.
In April, a journalist was shot dead by Irish republican dissidents during rioting in Londonderry.
“I strongly condemn the cowardly actions of those responsible for this bomb attack, which could have had devastating consequences,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in a statement.
“There is never any justification to use violence to achieve political aims,” he said.