KABUL -- Afghanistan's government has finalized a 21-member team that is expected to negotiate with the Taliban at upcoming talks aimed at putting an end to the country’s 18-year conflict.
The team was formed after "much deliberation and consultations with all parties," the State Ministry of Peace said in a statement late on March 26.
It will be led by Masoom Stanekzai, the former head of the National Directorate of Security, and will include politicians, former officials, and representatives of civil society. Five members are women.
The government statement did not provide details about where or when the talks would begin.
The Taliban did not immediately react to the announcement.
Under a deal signed by the United States and the Taliban in Doha on February 29, Taliban representatives agreed to commit to direct talks with the Afghan government.
In return for the start of talks and a series of security commitments from the Taliban, all U.S. troops and other foreign coalition forces are meant to withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months.
U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad congratulated Afghan political and civil society leaders for forming what he called an "inclusive negotiating team."
"This consensus is a meaningful step that moves the parties significantly closer to intra-Afghan negotiations," Khalillzad wrote in a separate tweet.
It was not immediately clear whether President Ashraf Ghani's electoral rival, former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, would back the list. U.S. efforts to resolve a dispute between Ghani and Abdullah, who also claims the presidency, have been unsuccessful.
Earlier this week, the government in Kabul said it would meet directly with Taliban representatives to discuss a prisoner swap considered by all sides a prerequisite for the beginning of intra-Afghan talks.