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Trump speaks with Taliban as fighting resumes in Afghanistan

President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs the White House to visit the National Institutes of Health to visit the vaccine research center and to get an update on the Coronavirus, in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs the White House to visit the National Institutes of Health to visit the vaccine research center and to get an update on the Coronavirus, in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

March 3 (UPI) -- U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with the Taliban Tuesday as fighting resumed between government forces in Afghanistan and the militant organization in at least 17 provinces, just days after the United States signed a peace deal to withdraw its troops after nearly two decades.

The call between Trump and Taliban Deputy Leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was first announced on Twitter by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and confirmed by Trump who told reporters on the South Lawn that it was "a very good talk."

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"We had a good conversation," Trump said. "We've agreed there's no violence. We don't want violence. We'll see what happens."

The call came after Baradar and U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay signed the deal on Saturday, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani balked at one of the commitments for his government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before intra-Afghan peace talks.

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In turn, the Taliban said it would resume attacks against the government. The group launched 33 attacks on Tuesday, according to Afghan authorities, and at least six civilians were killed.

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In a Taliban statement on the 35-minute phone call, Baradar told Trump "if the United States acts in agreement with us, we will have positive bilateral relations in the future."

The statement also said Trump told Baradar that he would have Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speak with Ghani to remove obstacles blocking their negotiations.

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Later Tuesday during a roundtable briefing on COVID-19, Trump said his relationship with Baradar was "very good" and that the Afghan government "may be reluctant" to release the prisoners.

In a statement, the White House said the two spoke of making progress toward establishing peace in the Middle Eastern country with Trump emphasizing the need to continue the reduction in violence agreement the Taliban agreed to a week prior to signing last week's deal.

"He also urged the Taliban to participate in intra-Afghan negotiations with representatives of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as well as other Afghans, with the goal of ending more than 40 years of war," the statement read. "

Pakistan, a longtime player in the Afghanistan conflict, urged the government to abide by the prisoner swap agreement noted in the U.S. withdrawal agreement and urged the Taliban to show military restraint.

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The prisoner exchange, in which the Taliban would receive 5,000 and the Afghan government 1,000, was intended as a way to build confidence between the two sides before further peace negotiations. Direct talks between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban were scheduled to begin next week, on March 10.

Officials said Kandahar and Helmand provinces saw some of the most intense fighting in Tuesday's fighting.

U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller, commander of Resolute Support Mission, said the Taliban must keep violence in check for the United States to keep its commitment to reducing troop levels.

"The reduction in violence was a confidence builder," Miller said. "We're very serious about our obligations and we expect the Taliban will be serious about their obligations. The U.S. has been very clear about our expectations, the violence must remain low."

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