Taliban to Join Talks With Negotiators as Afghanistan Takes Control of Security
GWEN IFILL: It could be a breakthrough moment in the longest conflict in American history. U.S. and Afghan peace negotiators are going to sit down with the militants who've been battling American troops since 2001.
After 12 years of war, senior U.S. officials now say direct talks with the Taliban are scheduled to begin within the next few days. The news came as President Obama wound up a meeting with French President Hollande at the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.
The president stressed that the Taliban must come prepared to make concessions.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Any insurgent group, including the Taliban, is going to need to accept an Afghan constitution that renounces ties with al-Qaida, ends violence and is committed to protection of women and minorities in the country.
GWEN IFILL: The Taliban gave no indication whether it would accept those terms when the meetings begin in Doha, Qatar.
Instead, a spokesman for the militants laid out separate goals in a news drones carried on Al-Jazeera.
TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: To support a political and peaceful solution which include end of the occupation of Afghanistan and establishment of an independent Islamic system into security which is the wants and aspiration of the nation.
GWEN IFILL: U.S. officials said Afghan government would hold its own talks with the Taliban separately.
And, in Kabul, Afghan President Karzai announced his negotiating team is ready to go.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, Afghanistan: Our high peace council will travel to Qatar to discuss peace talks with the Taliban. We hope that our brothers, the Taliban, also understand that the talks for the peace progress will move to their own soil in Afghanistan soon to ensure the peace in Afghanistan.
GWEN IFILL: Today's announcement came as international forces formally handled over full security control to the Afghan military and police.
It was a major milestone on the path toward withdrawing all foreign combat forces by the end of 2014. NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen attended the ceremony and emphasized that the coalition is not walking away.
SECRETARY-GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO: We will still be here and train, advise, assist the Afghan security forces. So Afghanistan will stand on its own feet after 2014, but not stand alone.
GWEN IFILL: About 66,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. That is down from a peak of 100,000 in 2010 during the surge ordered by President Obama. But the transition has been marred by one of the most violent Afghan springs in recent years.
The latest attack came today in Kabul when a bomb targeting a Shiite cleric killed three civilians.