The Afghan government's new peace council is calling on the Taliban to give up violence and join talks to end Afghanistan's nine-year war.
High Peace Council spokesman Qiyamuddin Kashaaf said Thursday the 70-member body will listen to the insurgent group's legitimate demands in order to broker peace. Kashaaf called on Saudi Arabia to help foster the dialogue. He said Saudi King Abdullah should use his influence with the Taliban to bring the militant group into the peace process.
Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries, including Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, to recognize the Taliban regime during the late 1990s.
NATO and Afghan officials have said that preliminary contacts have been made between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The militant group issued a statement Thursday denying those reports. The Taliban said it has not sent any delegations to Kabul for talks and does not intend to do so. The insurgent group reiterated its demand that all international forces withdraw from Afghanistan.
As Afghan leaders push for peace negotiations with the Taliban, local and international troops continue to press forward with their military campaign in the Taliban's southern stronghold of Kandahar. Afghan officials say the operation that began more than two months ago is forcing insurgents to flee the region.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of a provincial council in Kandahar, told The Associated Press that progress has been made with numerous militants killed or arrested. President Hamid Karzai's half-brother claims there is "no single Taliban base" in Kandahar now.
U.S. President Barack Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help support the civilian and military effort in the south. As troops have moved in, violence has increased. This year has been the deadliest for international forces since the beginning of the nine-year war.
On Thursday, NATO said an insurgent attack killed one of its service members in eastern Afghanistan.
In the west, Afghan officials say a roadside bomb killed four Afghan police officers and wounded one officer in Herat province on Wednesday.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.