Senior Afghan officials to travel to Doha for Taliban talks

The insurgent group has taken large amounts of territory in northern Afghanistan

Senior officials from Afghanistan will head to Doha for talks with the Taliban this week as the insurgent group continues to take swathes of territory amid the withdrawal of international troops.

Eight delegates, including senior Afghan peace official Abdullah Abdullah and former president Hamid Karzai, are expected to lead an effort to speed up peace talks, an official told Reuters.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the talks, which are separate from the stalled intra-Afghan negotiations taking place between Taliban and Afghan government negotiators also in the Qatari capital of Doha.

The news of the delegation's visit came hours after the Taliban warned of “consequences” of plans to keep some Turkish troops in Afghanistan to run and guard Kabul airport after foreign forces pull out.

It was not immediately clear whether the Kabul airport matter would be discussed between the Taliban and the senior Afghan delegation, expected to fly to Doha on Friday.

Gaining territory

The Taliban has made large territorial gains since the US and its international partners declared their intention to withdraw troops from the country.

The group brutally ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, curtailing women's rights, banning music and forcing people to attend daily prayers. The invasion that ousted them became the US's longest war.

Despite Nato and US intervention, the Taliban has continued to fight the Western-backed government in Kabul.

As the insurgent group seizes the opportunity from retreating troops and a weak Afghan government and pushes across the north of the country, former Mujahideen who fought against the Soviet Union in the 1990s have taken up arms again.

Earlier, the head of a Taliban commission that oversees government forces who surrender urged residents of Afghanistan's cities to reach out to them.

“Now that the fighting from mountains and deserts has reached the doors of the cities, Mujahiddin [Taliban] don't want fighting inside the city,” Amir Khan Muttaqi said, in a message tweeted by a Taliban spokesman.

“It is better … to use any possible channel to get in touch with our invitation and guidance commission,” he said, adding this would “prevent their cities from getting damaged".

The strategy is one well-worn by the Taliban — particularly during their first rise to power in the 1990s — which involves cutting off towns and district centres and encouraging elders to negotiate a surrender.

Hours after Muttaqi's message, a rush-hour roadside bomb blast in the centre of the Afghan capital killed four civilians and wounded 11 others, police said.

Muttaqi's comments came as the defence ministry said Afghan forces had cleared Qala-i-Naw city after days of fighting.

The Badghis province's capital saw sustained street fighting last week in the first assault by the Taliban on a major urban centre since foreign troops started their final withdrawal in May

Updated: July 13th 2021, 6:29 PM