UN Experts: Taliban radicals against peace gain prominence

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Radical splinter groups within the Taliban movement that oppose any negotiation with Afghanistan's new government are gaining prominence, U.N. experts said in a report circulated Thursday.

The experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against the Taliban said that despite gestures by the international community and the Afghan government in support of reconciliation, "there are currently no clear signals that the Taliban leadership is willing to engage in a political negotiation in a meaningful way."

The monitoring team noted, for example, that the release of Taliban members from the Bagram detention center and Afghan prisons, and the transfer of five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for U.S. Sgt. Bowe Berhdahl, had not led to any concessions from the Taliban.

A minority in the Afghan Taliban leadership continue to signal that they are willing to talk. But the experts said its central leadership is not only resistant to negotiations but attempted to disrupt the political process by targeting members of the High Peace Council, a government body tasked with organizing peace talks with the Taliban insurgency. It cited an unsuccessful Taliban attempt on June 21 to assassinate Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, who heads the Peace Council.

The experts said the emergence and growing importance of radical splinter groups such as Da Fidayano Mahaz show the seriousness of the internal conflict within the Taliban. They pointed to a declaration on Da Fidayano's website that it was seeking the death of all those involved in an initiative in Qatar to organize peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The monitoring team also reported "a distinct increase" in the activities and visibility of al-Qaida affiliates in Afghanistan in 2014.

It said that according to information provided by Afghan officials to the team in mid-2014 Taliban leaders were concerned that the success of the Islamic State terrorist group — also known as ISIL — would draw potential Taliban recruits to fight in Syria and Iraq.

"Although this did not happen, apparently because of how difficult it is to travel to Iraq, the monitoring team has received a steady stream of as yet unconfirmed reports and press articles pointing to the existence of direct contacts between individuals associated with the Taliban and individuals associated with ISIL," the report said.

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