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New Round Of Afghan Peace Talks Held Amid Deadly Attacks

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Members of a Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (center, front), leave after peace talks with senior Afghan politicians in Moscow on May 30.

KABUL -- U.S. and Taliban negotiators have held a new round of talks in Qatar to try to put an end to the war in Afghanistan, amid continued attacks by the militant group on Afghan officials and security forces.

The seventh round of talks with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, is "critical," Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on June 30, the second day of meetings in the Qatari capital, Doha, where the militant group maintains a political office.

Shaheen told AP that the two sides were looking for "tangible results" as they try to finalize agreements to end the nearly 18-year Afghan conflict -- the longest war in U.S. history.

The Taliban negotiating team is led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who co-founded the movement with the late Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The negotiations are expected to focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.

The Taliban, driven from power by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, now controls large swaths of Afghanistan's territory.

The militant group has so far refused to talk directly to the Afghan government in Kabul, calling it a puppet of the West, and has continued to carry out nearly daily attacks across Afghanistan.

Late on June 29, a bomb attack in the southern province of Kandahar killed eight employees of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), according to Afghan officials.

They said the IEC employees were stationed at the government office in the Maruf district to register voters ahead of presidential polls set for September when the attack occurred.

Police said members of the security forces also suffered some casualties in the bombing, which was claimed by the Taliban.

Separately, an attack on a military checkpoint in Farah Province's Bala Buluk district left at least eight Afghan soldiers dead and eight more injured, local officials said.

On June 29, it was reported that Taliban militants attacked security posts in the northern province of Baghlan, killing at least 26 pro-government militiamen.

A Defense Ministry official in Kabul said the attack in Baghlan indicated that the Taliban wanted to negotiate from a position of strength.

The previous round of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban took place in May.

During an unannounced visit to Kabul on June 25, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped for a peace deal with the Taliban "before September 1."

With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP
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