Afghan peace: Khalilzad hopes for peace deal with Taliban before April 2019

66 killed in Afghan clashes

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad hopes to start a peace process with the Taliban, and on Saturday he met with Ghani.

Khalilzad on Sunday said he was "cautiously optimistic", a peace settlement, which he preferred to call a "roadmap to Afghanistan's future", could be hammered out among rival Afghans.

Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat, spoke to reporters Sunday, a day after returning to the Afghan capital from three days of marathon talks with Qatar-based political envoys of the Taliban.

Afghanistan's Taliban has long refused US demands to negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul.

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Khairkhwa and Fazl were among five senior Taliban members released from the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2014 in exchange for a captured USA soldier, Bowe Bergdahl.

Khalilzad has been touring the region in recent days as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is stepping up efforts to settle the conflict after more than 17 years of war.

The rate at which Afghan forces are dying has long underscored the fragility of the country's security situation, the Taliban's continued strength and raised questions about USA claims that the Afghan troops are becoming an increasingly effective fighting force.

Khalilzad is trying to cobble together a negotiating team comprising influential Afghans to reassure the US-backed government in Kabul that it will not be shut out of a peace process.

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In October, Pakistan released one of the co-founders of the Taliban and another high-ranking commander. Progress toward reconciliation with the Taliban also as scant. The releases are widely seen as a US-directed move aimed at encouraging the Taliban to participate in talks.

Abdul Sattar Sirat, an ethnic Tajik and Islamic scholar, was suggested as a candidate to lead an interim administration.

The Wall Street Journal, citing a person familiar with the gathering, said Khalilzad met Taliban officials in Doha for the second time in four months.

The U.S. State Department has refused to comment on reported talks between U.S. officials and the Taliban.

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Dunford said that while there would never be a "military solution" on its own to bring peace to Afghanistan, the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation partners were working to leverage military, political and economic pressure to convince the Taliban it was in their interest to negotiate a political solution to the crisis with the government in Kabul.

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