Afghan official says talks with Taliban ongoing

KABUL — The Afghan government is involved in talks with extremist groups on multiple levels, but there is no comprehensive negotiation under way, the Afghan official in charge of reconciliation efforts with the Taliban said today.

A renewed push for talks with the Taliban and its allies is being made following an international meeting on Afghanistan last week, as the United States and other NATO troop-supplying countries look for a way to bring peace to the country.

Four NATO service members, including one American, died today in fighting in Afghanistan, the military said.

The U.S. service member was killed by a bomb in southern Afghanistan.

A Spanish soldier also died in a roadside bombing while escorting a U.N. relief convoy in western Afghanistan, according to Spain’s Defense Ministry. It said six other troops in the armored vehicle were wounded in the blast.

Two other NATO troops died in a firefight in the south but their nationalities were not disclosed.

The Taliban have denied reports of talks with U.N. officials and repeatedly said they are only open to negotiations once international forces leave the country.

However, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai told reporters the government is in regular contact with Taliban factions.

“There were some contacts, and the contacts will continue,” Stanekzai said. “We have contacts on the local, regional, national and — at the same time — broader political level, but it is too early to talk about the outcome of those contacts.”

He later explained in an interview with The Associated Press that a variety of government institutions have been involved in such discussions, including the government reconciliation commission and security forces.

But, he said, these have been piecemeal attempts to win the confidence of Taliban fighters rather than the beginning of a formal negotiation.

“There are not systematic talks going on with the Taliban,” he said.

Also today, two would-be suicide bombers targeted a police station in southern Zabul province, but were driven back before they could set off their explosives, Afghan officials said.

Officers opened fire on the attackers as they approached the police headquarters in Qalat city, killing one, said deputy provincial police chief Ghulam Jalanai Farahi. One officer was wounded in the firefight.

The second attacker escaped, and security forces were searching for him, Farahi said.

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