Separately, the Associated Press reported that Taliban officials said the group gave the U.S. envoy in the talks “a document outlining their offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan that would last between seven and 10 days.”
The U.S. demand for a reduction in violence had held up the resumption of formal peace talks for months. Both sides appeared to be just days away from signing a peace deal in September when the nearly year-long diplomatic effort was called off by President Trump in a surprise tweet.
Trump said he made the decision after a Taliban attack that killed a U.S. service member.
Since then, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been trying to restart negotiations, first by facilitating a prisoner exchange and now by demanding a reduction in violence.
Talks restarted in November after an unannounced Trump visit to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving, but they were “paused” in December after a Taliban attack on a highly fortified U.S. base.
Another Taliban attack this month claimed the lives of two U.S. service members when a roadside bomb exploded as their vehicle passed. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, touted the attack on Twitter, saying the blast shredded the vehicle and killed the “invaders.”
The office of Afghanistan’s president has demanded that the Taliban agree to a cease-fire and described the announced “reduction in violence” as inadequate, according to presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
Former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, a close ally of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, criticized the phrase “reduction in violence” as too vague. “We don’t have [reduction in violence] in the dictionary of war & peace,” he said in a tweet Thursday.
“Here is how the Talibs interpret it,” he wrote. “‘We kill some people instead of more people. We do one urban bombing per week instead of several.’ CEASEFIRE exists in all cultures. STOP KILLING HUMANS. Simple.”
A peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban would pave the way for the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a key campaign promise that Trump wants to keep. But reducing the troop level will also increase pressure on Afghan government forces, which continue to struggle to carry out operations without close U.S. support.
The U.S. military command in Kabul has begun reducing troop numbers despite the stalling of peace efforts. In October, Gen. Austin Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the number of troops in the country had been reduced by 2,000, calling the move “part of our optimization.” His spokesman said it was not part of any drawdown.
About 13,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, Army Col. Sonny Leggett. When Miller took command in Afghanistan last year, 15,000 U.S. troops were in the country.
Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad and Sharif Hassan in Kabul contributed to this report.