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U.S. commander meets with Taliban officials amid turmoil

U.S. commander meets with Taliban officials amid turmoil
Army Maj. Gen. Austin S. Miller is shown speaking a ceremony at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2015. Now the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Miller met with Taliban leaders Friday for peace talks. File Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

April 11 (UPI) -- A top U.S. commander has met with leaders of the Taliban amid accusations that each side has violated a peace deal.

Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller met with Taliban leaders Friday as part of a military channel that the U.S.-Taliban peace deal established, a U.S. military spokesperson in Kabul told Stars and Stripes.

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The Taliban accused U.S. forces of violating the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 with repeated raids and "brutal drone attacks," the military newspaper added.

The U.S. military has called it a baseless claim, saying they have only defended themselves against Afghan forces, which is allowed in the agreement.

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Taliban officials "called for a halt" to the night raids and other operations in non-combat areas at the meeting, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said.

Shaheen added in a tweet that the meeting was about implementing the peace deal and violations that have already occurred, TOLO News reported.

As part of the deal, the Taliban would not attack U.S. military facilities in Afghanistan, and 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be released in exchange for 1,000 members of Afghan security forces and government employees being released from Taliban custody.

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RELATED Taliban, Afghanistan prepare for prisoner swap

Intra-Afghan peace talks have been stalled because of disagreements on the release of thousands of Taliban and Afghan government prisoners. Talks were supposed to start on March 10 as part of the peace deal.

After the Taliban broke off peace talks Tuesday, the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan said Wednesday it would release 100 Taliban prisoners to get negotiations restarted.

On Thursday, at least five rockets were fired at the largest U.S. airbase in Afghanistan, destroying a vehicle, but injuring no one. The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack.

RELATED EU lauds Afghan gov't for assembling 'inclusive' team for Taliban talks

Both the peace talks and prisoner release are integral to the peace deal that commits the United States to withdrawing military forces from Afghanistan in 14 months with assurances terrorists will not use Afghanistan as a safe haven.

The United States began withdrawing troops in early March from Afghanistan and must reduce its forces from 13,000 to 8,600 by early July.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on March 23 that the United States would cut $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan. He threatened a further $1 billion reduction next year because, he said, the country's political rivals have failed to form a new government.

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The announcement came after Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Kabul to hold separate and combined talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, a rival candidate for president last year who has disputed the election results.

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