The Taliban has refused to hold formal talks with the Western-backed Afghan government [File- Sergei Karpukhin-Reuters]

Afghan Taliban representatives and United States officials will hold peace talks for two days starting Wednesday in the Gulf state of Qatar.

Senior Taliban members, however, said Afghan government officials will not be involved in the talks.

The Taliban have rejected numerous requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to take part in the talks, insisting that the US is their main adversary in the 17-year war and that Kabul is a “puppet” regime.

The Taliban, Afghanistan’s largest armed group which was toppled from power by a US-led invasion in 2001, called off their meeting with the US officials in Saudi Arabia this week following Riyadh’s insistence on bringing the Western-backed Afghan government to the table.

The talks will be the fourth in a series between Taliban leaders and US special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.

“After mutual consultations, we are going to meet US officials in Doha on Wednesday. The meeting will continue for two days – Wednesday and Thursday,” said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban on condition of anonymity.

Pakistani and Iranian officials said they were trying to persuade the Taliban to meet Afghan officials.

Another senior Taliban leader confirmed the Qatar meeting and said no other country would be involved.

At the request of the US, a Taliban office was established in Doha in 2013 to facilitate peace talks.

But the office had to be soon closed after the Taliban came under pressure for hoisting the same flag at their office that the group used during its rule in Afghanistan.

Subsequently, the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai halted all peace efforts, saying the Doha office was presenting itself as an unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile.

The flag has since been taken down and the office has remained empty with no official announcements of a possible reopening.

Talks with the Taliban have since been taking place elsewhere in Doha.

US plans to withdraw troops

The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly a trillion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people.

In 2017, US President Donald Trump increased the number of his country’s troops in Afghanistan as part of a new strategy against the Taliban.

There are now about 14,000 US soldiers in the country. The Taliban has previously said the presence of foreign troops was the biggest obstacle to peace in Afghanistan.

Reports last month about Trump’s plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan triggered uncertainty in Kabul, which depends on the US and other foreign powers for military support and training.

The US embassy in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment, said the Reuters news agency.

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