The leader of the Taliban on Saturday called for direct talks with Washington to end the foreign “occupation” of Afghanistan. In a statement, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said “sincere, transparent, and result-oriented negotiations” with the U.S. would be the only way to end the country’s 17-year war. Any peace agreement, he said, would have to “preserve our Islamic goals” and the “sovereignty of our homeland.” The statement comes after a major Taliban offensive in the city of Ghazni left hundreds dead and overwhelmed U.S.-backed forces in the area, forcing the U.S. to carry out airstrikes. The Taliban chief’s appeal comes amid reports of behind-the-scenes talks between U.S. officials and Taliban representatives that reportedly culminated in a secret meeting in Qatar.
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