Afghan Negotiating Team Warns Taliban It Must Resume Talks

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A member of the Afghan government's peace negotiating team Sunday warned the Taliban that if they don't resume peace talks in Qatar soon, the government could recall the team before a deal is reached.

Government negotiator Rasul Talib said in a news conference the team is waiting for the return of the Taliban leadership to Doha, where a second round of peace talks began this month but have made little progress.

He asked the Taliban to “stop spreading baseless remarks" and return to the negotiating table, adding “The Taliban does not have the guts for peace, they are spreading nonsense around.”

There was no immediate response from the Taliban.

Talib's comments came as the Taliban leadership has recently been in Iran and Russia for discussions on the negotiations, and as President Joe Biden's new administration has said it plans to review the peace agreement signed last February between the U.S. and the Taliban.

The Pentagon said last week that the Taliban's refusal to meet commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan is raising questions about whether all U.S. troops will be able to leave by May as required under the peace deal.

Following discussions in Moscow on Friday, the head of the Taliban delegation, Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanikzai, said the group expects the U.S. to fulfill its pledge to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by May.

The U.S. Pentagon announced in mid-January that the U.S. military has met its goal of reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan to about 2,500.

Stanikzai has also demanded the resignation of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, calling his administration an obstacle to peace, and a spike in violence has decreased optimism among Afghans the peace process will work.

Meanwhile, the Afghan peace negotiating team praised President Biden's administration for its decision to review the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, saying the deal favors the Taliban.

Talib asked the new U.S. administration to withdraw its forces in a way that will prevent a security vacuum in the country and prevent the possibility of more militant attacks in Afghanistan and against the U.S. and other countries.

The Taliban on Sunday mistakenly fired two mortars in northern Faryab province killing two civilians and wounding 14 others, said the provincial police spokesman, Karim Yuresh. He said Afghan security checkpoints were targeted but the shells missed the checkpoints and hit the civilians.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the group fired mortars toward civilians and accused Afghan forces of firing the mortars and causing the casualties.