Taliban denies talks with Afghan officials

US commander's claim of contacts between insurgents and Kabul is 'baseless', spokesman says

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The Taliban say they "categorically reject" a statement by the US commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan that there were "off stage" contacts and dialogue taking place between the Kabul government and the insurgents.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said General John Nicholson's remarks, made to reporters at the Pentagon from his Kabul office, were a "baseless claim".

Gen Nicholson said on Wednesday that "mid-level, senior-level Taliban leaders" were "engaging with Afghans", adding that unspecified international organisations, foreign governments and other interested parties also were involved.

"American General Nicholson is making such fabricated statements to divert attention from his failures and keep the Washington media busy with false claims instead of exposing the failed Trump strategy" in Afghanistan, Mr Mujahid said in a statement issued on Friday.

Gen Nicholson told The National last week that the US, as well as local and international partners, were in talks with Taliban leaders. "The Taliban are talking on many levels, unofficially, behind the scenes, to leaders in and out of government, and to many nations in the region," he said in a statement.

However, US forces have continued operations against the Taliban, and this week reported killing more than 70 senior members in strikes on the group's elite "Red Unit" special forces.

Gen Nicholson said the strikes in southern Afghanistan "represent one of the largest blows to Taliban leadership in the last year, the cumulative effects of which will be felt nationwide for quite some time”.