US officials hold first in-person meet with Taliban months after Zawahiri’s killing: report

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Top United States officials have reportedly had an in-person meeting with the Taliban in the Qatari capital of Doha.

As per CNN, this was the first meeting of US officials with the Taliban after the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul in late July.

The meeting that took place on Saturday saw the presence of CIA’s deputy director and the top State Department official responsible for Afghanistan and Taliban’s head of intelligence, Abdul Haq Wasiq, two officials familiar with the development told CNN.

“The presence of CIA Deputy Director David Cohen and the Taliban’s Wasiq at the meeting on Saturday indicates an emphasis on counterterrorism,” the report said.

It comes after the White House last month termed cooperation with the Taliban on counterterrorism “a work in progress.”

Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike in Kabul. He was found to be residing in a safe house that had ties to the deputy leader of the Taliban.

US officials had claimed that the home belonged to an aide of Sirajuddin Haqqani, a top deputy of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Haibatallah Akhundzada.

While the Taliban angrily condemned the operation, the US officials accused the militant group of knowing about Zawahiri’s whereabouts.

The meeting on counterterrorism comes at a time when Afghanistan is facing an insurgency from the Islamic State offshoot, called ISIS-K.

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Beth Sanner, a former Deputy Director of National Intelligence who led Afghanistan analysis at the CIA told CNN, “The Taliban are struggling to prevent ISIS-K attacks, making them look feckless, particularly in Kabul.”

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“[Cohen] is likely to deliver a firm message that we will conduct more strikes as we did against Zawahiri if we find that al Qaeda members in Afghanistan are supporting operations that threaten the US or its allies,” Sanner said.

“ISIS-K now poses an internal Afghan threat, to the Taliban and to sectarian stability given ISIS-K’s focus on killing Shias, but there is some reasonable concern that ISIS-K could ultimately turn its sights on external plotting if the Taliban is unable to contain them.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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