U.S. delegation to hold first in-person meeting with Taliban in Qatar

A U.S. delegation will meet with Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar Saturday and Sunday in the first in-person meeting between the U.S. and Taliban since the late August withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

The meeting, first reported by Reuters, will include the State Department’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Tom West and USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance assistant to the administrator Sarah Charles.

While it is not clear who will be attending as part of the Taliban’s delegation, senior administration officials told Reuters that cabinet-level members of the Taliban would be in attendance.

State Department spokesperson confirmed the meeting to The Washington Times Saturday.

“Our key priorities are the continued safe passage out of Afghanistan of U.S. and other foreign nationals and Afghans to whom we have a special commitment who seek to leave the country and holding the Taliban to its commitment not to allow terrorists to use Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States or its allies. We will reaffirm that we continue to hold the Taliban to their commitments,” the spokesperson said.

The State Department made clear that the two-day meeting “is not about granting recognition or conferring legitimacy” and said that “any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions.”

The meeting comes as Afghanistan confronts an urgent financial and humanitarian crisis.

“We are in a very poor spot to try to help the women, the girls, and the average Afghans right now,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John F. Sopko, said Wednesday before a House panel.

He said the U.S. and international community face a difficult path ahead in providing aid to the Afghan people on the precipice of a humanitarian and economic disaster.

“We’ve lost all ability, first of all, to know how bad the situation is for women and girls, as well as a lot of other Afghans,” he testified. “But we also don’t have much leverage.”

Mr. Sopko said it is important to ensure the Taliban is held accountable for any assurances they offer in exchange for international aid.

“If we do any funding, and I’m not advocating that we give a dime to the Taliban government… remember what do they want,” Mr. Sopko said. “And how do we ensure that if we give them anything they want, we get something in return.”

The State Department spokesperson said that the U.S. would “press the Taliban to allow humanitarian agencies free access to areas of need,” while also maintaining pressure on the Taliban to “respect the rights of all Afghans.”

The talks also come amid a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan with ISIS claiming responsibility for several recent attacks including a suicide bombing on a Mosque in Kunduz Friday that killed 46.

On Saturday, the Taliban’s spokesman Suhail Shaheen told The Associated Press that the Taliban would not coordinate with the U.S. in their fight against ISIS, saying the Taliban can “tackle” the terrorist group “independently.”