The Taliban are ready to restart peace talks with the United States, a day after President Donald Trump visited US troops in Afghanistan and said he believed the radical group would agree to a ceasefire.
Trump’s surprise Thanksgiving Day visit was his first to Afghanistan since becoming president and a week after a prisoner swap between Washington and Kabul raised hopes for a peace deal to end the 18-year war.
“The Taliban wants to make a deal and we are meeting with them,” Trump told reporters after arriving in Afghanistan.
“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.
Trump cancelled peace negotiations in September after the militant group claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that killed 12, including an American soldier.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Islamist insurgent group, said they were “ready to restart talks”.
“Our stance is still the same. If peace talks start, they will resume from where they stopped,” Mujahid told Reuters.
Taliban leaders told Reuters the group is holding meetings with senior US officials in Doha, adding they could soon resume formal peace talks.
“We are hoping Trump’s visit to Afghanistan will prove he is serious to start talks again. We don’t think he has much choice,” said a senior Taliban commander on condition of anonymity.
There are currently 13 000 US forces as well as thousands of NATO troops in Afghanistan, 18 years after a US-led coalition invaded following the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the US.
About 2 400 US service members died in the course of the Afghan conflict.
A draft accord agreed in September would have thousands of American troops withdrawn in exchange for guarantees Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the US or its allies.
Many US officials doubt the Taliban can be relied on to prevent al Qaeda from plotting attacks from Afghan territory.