By: MARTHA RADDATZ and KIRIT RADIA
U.S. forces in Afghanistan have allowed a Taliban member to travel to Kabul from Pakistan to attend peace talks with the Afghan government within the past two weeks, a senior U.S. official told ABC News.
The Taliban representative is believed to have driven into Afghanistan from the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Omar, have been based since their ouster by U.S. forces in 2001, the official said.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to provide greater detail about the U.S.-facilitated talks than had previously been disclosed.
The official declined to reveal the Taliban representative’s identity, but said he “speaks for people in a big Taliban network.”
On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed for the first time that the United States had facilitated peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in an effort to bring an end to the nine-year war in Afghanistan. He added, however, that the U.S. was not yet prepared to take part in the talks itself.
Today, the official said the U.S. military does not provide transportation, but rather guarantees the Taliban representative will not be targeted on his way into Kabul.
The official said this particular Taliban representative has not been in meetings in Kabul before, but there have been meetings in the past that “broke down over stupid stuff.”
The official seemed slightly more optimistic about the new meeting but “suspects they will squabble over all kinds of things” before the parties even really talk.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sought for months to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
The United States has insisted this is an Afghan-led reconciliation process, though it has set some standards for what Taliban members must do in order to be accepted back, including renouncing ties to al Qaeda.
The State Department said today that some of the Taliban’s top leadership may not qualify.
“There are particular red lines, if you want to call it that, that we have agreed with the international community and Afghanistan. There is no indication that we have that Mullah Omar has any intention of meeting the standards that we’ve laid out,” spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.