Talks between U.S. and Taliban officials, initially scheduled to have begun in Doha on Thursday, were delayed after Afghan President Hamid Karzai reacted angrily to the way the Taliban presented itself at the opening of its office in the Qatari capital earlier this week.
Karzai was unhappy that the Taliban declared the office to represent the “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan” – the appellation the Islamist militia operated under after it seized most of Afghanistan in 1996. The “emirate” was toppled by U.S.-led forces in late 2001, but the Taliban continues to use the term to this day.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who is due to arrive in Doha on Friday, spoke twice to Karzai by phone, and at the behest of the U.S. and Qatari governments, the Taliban removed offending signage.
“We do not recognize the name ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ and are pleased that Qatar has clarified that the name of the office is the ‘Political Office of the Afghan Taliban’ and has had the sign with the incorrect name in front of the door taken down,” U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo told the U.N. Security Council during a session on Afghanistan Thursday.
The Taliban may have taken down the signs from its Doha office but the group’s frequently-updated website, which still carries the “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan” masthead, shows no sign of goodwill ahead of planned talks with U.S. officials.
A “latest news” item, dated Thursday, reports on a purported victory over International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops a day earlier.
“A heavy fighting occurred between the Islamic emirate’s mujahideen and the invading terrorist forces in the capital of Logar province at yesterday midnight.” It said. “At least 6 U.S.-NATO invaders were killed and 7 more wounded during the fight.”
According to the Defense Department, four U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, “of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with indirect fire.” (The Pentagon said the four died in Bagram, which is about 90 miles north of the location identified in the Taliban report, the Logar provincial capital, Pul-i-Alam.)
Another “latest news” item on the Taliban site is headlined “Mujahideen take down 3 U.S.-led invaders, hurt 8 others,” and refers to a “head-on clash” early on Thursday morning in Nangarhar province, which lies between Kabul and the border with Pakistan. ISAF has reported no coalition loss of life in Nangarhar on Thursday.
Yet another report claims the Taliban destroyed a tank on Thursday in Ghazni province, south-west of Kabul, killing “five puppets” of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and one policeman. As of late Thursday the ANA has reported no loss of life in Ghazni.
The website also carries statements and a “weekly analysis,” the latest of which was posted on Tuesday.
Taking issue with ISAF commander U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Dunford’s comment in a recent interview about “significant progress” in Afghanistan, the Taliban article accuses America of offering the country nothing over the past 12 years but “destruction, killing and murder, looting and plunder, immodesty and impudence, corruption, insecurity, lingual and racial bigotry.”
According to the Pentagon, 2,233 U.S. personnel have been killed in and around Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began and 18,795 have been wounded in action. In addition, almost 1,100 coalition soldiers from other contributing nations have been killed.
An Associated Press tally puts the number of ANA fatalities this year at more than 330. According to data kept by the Brookings Institution, 2,986 ANA soldiers were killed between early 2007 and the end of last year.
According to the State Department, the envisaged talks with representatives of the group responsible for the majority of those American, coalition and Afghan deaths will be led on the U.S. side by special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Thursday characterized the delay in getting the talks underway as a logistical one (although a day earlier she had conceded that “there are clearly things that did not go as planned.”)
Psaki said Dobbins was “packed and ready to go with his passport and suitcase, and I anticipate he will when it’s time for those talks.”
She said she could not confirm reports from Doha that the talks may now begin on Monday, after Kerry leaves for the next stop of a two-week Middle East and Asia trip.
From Doha Kerry is due to fly to New Delhi for annual U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue talks. Citing government sources, Indian media reported Thursday that officials intend to raise concerns with Kerry about a plan for the Taliban officials at the envisaged talks to represent the Haqqani network as well.
Among numerous terror attacks attributed to the Haqqani network is the July 2008 suicide bombing at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which killed more than 40 people, including India’s defense attache and a foreign service officer.