Afghanistan Peace Talks

Afghan families leave their houses after fighting between the Afghan military and Taliban insurgents in Helmand province, southern of Afghanistan, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Abdul Khaliq)

ISLAMABAD — The Taliban said on Friday they have agreed to suspend attacks in southern Afghanistan that have displaced thousands this week — but only after the Americans promised to halt all strikes and night raids in keeping with the peace agreement the US signed with the insurgents in February.

The US has been conducting air strikes in support of Afghan forces trying to repel week-long Taliban assaults in southern Helmand province that threatened to derail efforts to end Afghanistan’s 19-year war.

The Taliban pledge came after a meeting with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. Austin Miller, commander of US troops in Afghanistan, a Taliban figure familiar with the discussions said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Taliban agreed to suspend their operations after the Americans said they would end drone strikes on insurgent positions, as well as night raids and air assaults, the Taliban figure said.

Helmand has been the scene of a blistering Taliban assault since last week, with rocket attacks from the Taliban and retaliatory airstrikes from US and Afghan aircraft forcing more than 5,600 families to flee their homes, seeking refuge in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and Nad Ali and Marja districts.

Over the past few years, a resurgent Taliban have gained control of roughly 80% of the province, mainly the rural areas, while the district centers are still under government control.

The flareup came even as Afghan government representatives and the Taliban are holding peace talks in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar, where the Taliban have for years maintained a political office. The negotiations, envisaged under a US deal signed with the insurgents on Feb. 29, are seen as the country’s best chance at peace.

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