Karzai: Talks with Taliban on for 'some time'
By ROBERT KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer
24 mins ago
KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai confirmed his government has been in informal talks with the Taliban on securing peace in war-weary Afghanistan "for quite some time" — the latest in a series of high-level acknowledgments of contacts with the insurgent group.
Meanwhile, Britain's prime minister said Monday a female aid worker may have been killed by American forces during a failed rescue Friday, instead of by her captors as previously announced.
Also Monday, Taliban fighters ambushed a military supply convoy in the east and fought with Afghan forces in the south.
NATO was also investigating the deaths of two civilians killed in southern Afghanistan on Sunday. Initial reports indicated they died in a NATO airstrike called in after a patrol was attacked by insurgents.
Unofficial discussions have been held with Taliban representatives over an extended period, Karzai told CNN's "Larry King Live" in an interview to be broadcast Monday.
"We have been talking to the Taliban as countryman to countryman," Karzai said. "Not as a regular official contact with the Taliban with a fixed address, but rather unofficial personal contacts have been going on for quite some time."
Afghan presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said it was not the first time Karzai had acknowledged talks, saying both the president and his office have repeatedly confirmed unofficial discussions.
"He has talked about it in the past as well. It's not hidden from anyone," Omar said. The president's office previously confirmed there were informal talks with different levels of Afghan Taliban over the past couple of years.
"We have said that there have been contacts in the past, initiated sometimes by the government, sometimes by the armed opposition," Omar said. He said these have been through intermediaries.
NATO's top commander in Afghanistan — Gen. David Petraeus — has also said the military coalition was aware of overtures made by Taliban insurgents at the highest levels to the Afghan government.
The drumbeat about talks comes as support for a drawn-out military push in Afghanistan is waning in the United States and with other NATO allies as the war enters its 10th year. Sending thousands more U.S. troops this summer to the country's south has yet to show significantly increased security in the Taliban heartland and violence has risen countrywide in recent months.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, told him that Briton Linda Norgrove, 36, was possibly killed by a grenade detonated by a member of the U.S. rescue team.
Norgrove died in eastern Kunar province after being abducted two weeks earlier along with three Afghan colleagues who were later released. Six kidnappers also died in the rescue attempt.
In the east on Monday, Taliban fighters ambushed a supply convoy guarded by Afghan military contractors as it traveled through Ghazni province on its way to Kandahar in the south, said provincial chief of police Zarawar Zahid. An hourlong gunbattle killed eight insurgents and wounded two Afghan security contractors in Qarabagh district.
Six militants died in operations by Afghan forces Sunday in southern Helmand province's Marjah and Greshk districts, the Defense Ministry said in a statement issued Monday.
A joint force was attacked with small-arms fire in Kandahar on Sunday, NATO said in a statement. Troops called in an airstrike and followed up by firing mortar rounds in Zhari district.
"Two civilians may have been accidentally killed in the incident," said NATO, adding a child was also wounded. One insurgent died, it said.
An Afghan civilian was also killed by a roadside bomb planted by insurgents in Khost province Monday, NATO said.
The nine-year war has inflicted a mounting toll on Afghan civilians. A U.N. report said more than 1,200 Afghans died and nearly 2,000 were wounded between January and June this year.
The Afghan government says it hopes to make talks more structured with a "peace council" that will aim for formal talks with insurgent groups. On Sunday, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani was named chief of the council. Rabbani was one of a group of mujahedeen leaders who fought the Soviets in the 1980s. He was Afghanistan's president between 1992 and 1996, when he was ousted by the Taliban.
Omar said the panel should become the conduit for formal talks.
"We hope that the signals that have been sent from the different representatives of the Taliban, and the kind of contact, direct and indirect, from the past will materialize into substantive talks led by the High Council of Peace," Omar said.
Publicly, the Taliban have said they won't negotiate until foreign troops leave the country, yet many Taliban leaders have reached out directly or indirectly to the highest levels of the Afghan government, he said.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt and Amir Shah contributed to this report.