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US and Taliban to begin peace talks

Representatives of the United States and the Taliban are expected to meet over the next few days in Doha, Qatar, to discuss an end to the 12 year old war in Afghanistan directly with that country's government.
/ Source: Andrea Michell Reports

Representatives of the United States and the Taliban are expected to meet over the next few days in Doha, Qatar, to discuss an end to the 12 year old war in Afghanistan directly with that country's government.

An Afghan army soldier stands guard in the destroyed courthouse in Farah, western Afghanistan on April 4, 2013. Suicide bombers disguised as Afghan soldiers stormed the courthouse in a failed bid to free more than a dozen Taliban prisoners. Tens of people, including the nine attackers were reported killed in the fighting. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi/AP)

Updated at 2:52 p.m

Representatives of the United States and the Taliban are expected to meet over the next few days in Doha, Qatar, to discuss an end to the 12-year-old war in Afghanistan directly with that country’s government, senior Obama administration officials told NBC News Tuesday.

The Doha summit will mark the first direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban since the start of the war. President Obama, speaking from the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, called on the Taliban to cut ties with al-Qaida, accept the Afghan constitution, and end the violence that has ravaged the country for decades. He also said the country must remain committed to protecting women and minorities.

“[An] Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process is the best way to end the violence and to promote lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region,” Obama said. He cast the development as “a very important first step” but acknowledged, “we don’t think this process will be easy or quick.”

The news coincides with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s announcement Tuesday that NATO is transferring full responsibility of security in the nation to Afghani forces.

“Our country is in the process of a historic event, and from now on, always, all the security responsibility will be conducted and performed by our forces, and will be led by our own forces,” Karzai said at a ceremony with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. A bomb exploded nearby before the announcement, killing three and wounding 30.

US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador James Dobbins will be present at the meetings, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. Psaki confirmed that the U.S. will raise the case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with the Taliban. Bergdahl went missing near the Pakistani border four years ago and is thought to be held by the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction.

U.S. operations in Afghanistan are scheduled to cease by the end of next year, though it remains unclear what kind of role the U.S. will continue to play.