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Afghan Taliban Say Claim Of Talks Is 'Propaganda'

Afghan presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said the government was in talks "at various levels."
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghanistan's Taliban has denied that it was holding peace talks with the government, saying such claims were propaganda aimed at creating a schism among the militants.

The insurgents, who have made a comeback in recent years and carried out a number of high-profile attacks despite the growing number of Western troops, once again pledged to fight until all foreign troops pulled out of Afghanistan.

The spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on April 21 the government had made progress in talks with the Taliban and was asking foreign allies to remove the names of some militants from wanted lists.

U.S. President Barack Obama has also spoken of the possibility of talking to some Taliban members as a way of ending a war that has become a priority for his administration.

"There have been no talks with the Taliban. This is just propaganda to influence public opinion, to show that 'we [the government] are interested in peace, but they [the Taliban] are not'," Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said.

"This issue is clear that their intention is to create disunity and split among the Taliban. We will not engage in talks as long as foreign troops are here," Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Karzai's spokesman Humayun Hamidzada told a briefing on April 21 the government was in contact "at various levels" with opposition forces, but declined to give details or names.

U.S.-backed Afghan forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001 after its leadership refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders wanted by Washington for the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Taliban attacks have increased in recent years along with the number of foreign troops sent to fight them. The militants have also spread their influence in neighboring Pakistan, where their senior leaders are believed to be based.

Obama has said he would consider talking to moderate Taliban and has ordered the dispatch of 21,000 extra soldiers this year to join more than 70,000 Western troops in Afghanistan. He has also pledged to boost U.S. aid to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban has refused Obama's offer of talks.