A new round of talks between Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, and Taliban negotiators has begun in Qatar, a Taliban spokesman confirmed.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid wrote in a tweet on June 29 that the “seventh round of talks between U.S. representatives and the negotiation team of the Islamic Emirate have begun in Doha.”

Mujahid told AP that the talks, originally scheduled to begin in the morning, started instead at midafternoon in Doha, the Qatari capital where the militant group has a representative office.

The talks came as Taliban militants the same day killed at least 26 pro-government militiamen in fighting in northern Afghanistan.

Insurgents attacked security posts in the Nahrin district of Baghlan Province. A Taliban spokesman said 28 militiamen were killed and 12 injured, while a provincial police spokesman said 26 militiamen died.

A Defense Ministry official in Kabul said the attack indicated that the Taliban wanted to negotiate from a position of strength.

The Taliban negotiating team has been led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who co-founded the movement with the late Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The Doha talks are expected to focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.

The Taliban, driven from power by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, now controls large swaths of Afghanistan’s territory.

Taliban representatives have so far refused to talk directly to the Afghan government in Kabul, calling it a puppet of the West.

Tags: ; ; ;