By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Taliban militants say they have suspended preliminary talks with the United States aimed at building confidence and clearing the way for eventual peace talks on the conflict in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for NATO-led forces to leave all rural areas after a U.S. soldier killed 16 Afghan civilians.
A Taliban statement on March 15 accused the United States of having a wavering position and said this was an obstacle to progress. It said U.S. positions and statements on the negotiations had been “shaky, erratic, and vague.”
The Taliban statement deals a blow to the U.S.-led coalition’s hopes of a negotiated agreement to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
The announcement comes after reports that Taliban and U.S. representatives held preliminary confidence-building talks aimed at setting up a Taliban political office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar for the holding of peace negotiations.
The statement also said the Taliban rejected holding talks with the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Karzai Wants Security Handover Sooner
President Karzai, meanwhile, called for NATO-led forces to leave Afghan villages.
A statement issued by Karzai’s office on March 15 quoted the president as telling visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that NATO-led international forces should “be withdrawn from villages and relocated in their bases.”
The talks between Karzai and Panetta followed the March 11 massacre by a U.S. soldier of 16 villagers in southern Kandahar Province.
The statement said that Afghan security forces “have the ability to keep the security in rural areas and in villages on their own.”
Afghan legislators had earlier expressed outrage that the U.S. military flew the soldier out of the country although they were demanding he be tried in the country.
Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Karzai, said the Afghan leader also told Panetta that his government wanted to take control of security from NATO forces in 2013 — not 2014, as previously planned by Washington.
There was no immediate response from NATO or Panetta on Karzai’s demand.
Panetta had told reporters after talks with Karzai that he was “confident” both sides could work out a treaty allowing a U.S. military presence in the country beyond 2014.
It was not immediately clear how many U.S. bases could be affected by Karzai’s demand, as the United States previously disbanded a number of outposts in a bid to concentrate on securing major towns from Taliban influence.