The Taliban Is Holding Secret Negotiations With Government as Afghanistan Violence Escalates, Military Commander Reveals

As violence in Afghanistan continues to mount, the Taliban is secretly holding a meeting with the government in Kabul, U.S. military officials revealed.

The Afghan government had first offered to meet with Taliban leaders in February, but their overtures were ignored, according to reports at the time. Now, top U.S. military officials say talks are taking place behind the scenes, and that international organizations and other foreign governments are also participating in the negotiations. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that the Taliban could become a political party if the Sunni group agrees to recognize Afghanistan's constitution and put an end to the violence.

Still, violence continues to plague the country, and fighting has escalated during recent months. On Wednesday, U.S. military officials told reporters that they had killed dozens of Taliban leaders in an operation last week. That same day, a Taliban spokesman said members of the group killed nearly 30 Afghan police officers in a suicide mission in the Afghan province of Logar.

"The objective of these attacks was to avenge the barbaric night raids executed by the enemy in various areas of the country, particularly those on the houses of innocent people and their communities, and in vengeance for the crimes and transgressions in which the blood of women and children were shed, and houses and mosques were destroyed, in Logar and Maydan Wardak provinces," the Taliban spokesman said in a statement released on its website and on social media Wednesday.

Some analysts say the increase in violence forced the government in Kabul to pursue talks more aggressively.

"Thanks to its violence, the Taliban enjoys significant leverage with the central government in Kabul. The question is what they'll use it for," Chris Meserole, a Middle East expert with the Brookings Institution, told Newsweek.

"Are they actually interested in laying down their arms and becoming a conventional political party? Or are they more concerned with weakening President Ghani and the central government as much as possible?"

Despite the doubt, the Trump administration appears convinced that pursuing negotiations with the Taliban is the right move. In mid-May, President Donald Trump hosted a historic meeting with the leader of Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country that lies to the north of Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has been floated as a location where talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government could eventually be held, although it is unclear whether the talks mentioned by U.S. military officials are happening there. Leaders of around 20 countries met in Uzbekistan's capital in March and gave their support for negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

In January, the U.S. military released data suggesting that the Taliban had increased the amount of territory in Afghanistan under its control. As of October 2017, around 14 percent of the country's districts were under the control or influence of the Taliban or other insurgent groups, the data revealed.