WASHINGTON -- The Taliban must ensure that Afghanistan does not become a sanctuary for extremists, top US defense officials said Wednesday (August 28), as peace negotiations with the militant group appear to be nearing their conclusion.
Talks with the Taliban in Qatar must guarantee that Afghanistan "is no longer a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States", Defence Secretary Mark Esper told reporters.
No space for terrorists
A deal on drawing down the 13,000 US troops in the country, after fighting for nearly two decades, must not leave al-Qaeda, the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and other US-designated terrorist organisations space to continue their activities, said Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"I'm not using the 'withdrawal' word right now," Dunford said, standing next to Esper.
"We're going to make sure that Afghanistan is not a sanctuary, and we're going to try to have an effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan."
It is clear that Afghanistan needs a negotiated solution involving not just the United States but the Afghan government, emphasised Dunford.
"I view any agreement that would be pending is something we are doing with, not to, the Afghan people."
"I think an agreement that can initiate inter-Afghan dialogue, potentially leading to a reduction in violence associated with the insurgency, is something that's worth trying," he said.
'We want stability'
"I think any of us who have served there have long known that what's going to be required is a negotiated peace settlement," he said.
"We want stability for the Afghan people."
Any agreement is going to be "conditions based", he said, adding that it was "premature" to talk about "what our counter-terrorism presence in Afghanistan may or may not be".
"The president and the secretary have made it quite clear to me that, as this progresses, we ensure that our counter-terrorism objectives are addressed."