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    US Official: No High-Level Talks Taking Place with Taliban

    The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, says high-level talks with the Taliban are not taking place. He briefed reporters at the State Department, hours after he returned from a trip to Afghanistan.  

    Ambassador Holbrooke said high-level talks with the Taliban about peace are not taking place, despite speculation and media reports to the contrary.  

    But, he said, there has been an increase in the number of Taliban-allied fighters who have been reaching out because they are weary of fighting. "Most of this is at the local level - individual provincial leaders, individual commanders with their units.  A lot of these groups, if you know the history of Afghanistan, you will know were not hard-core ideological Taliban. They are independent groups who defend their local valley and move back and forth, and they're feeling the pressure," he said.

    Still, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, told VOA Friday that there are, in his words, "various strands of outreach from various Taliban leaders."

    But both Holbrooke and Petraeus directly stated that nothing is happening that rises to the level of talks or negotiations.

    Holbrooke said he met with General Petraeus, as well as U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, senior Afghan officials and international representatives during his recent trip to Afghanistan. He said discussion topics ranged from the military situation to agriculture to governance and corruption.

    Holbrooke noted that the Afghan government will announce new rules for private security companies on November 15.  

    Mr. Karzai decreed in August that he was planning to ban all private security companies operating in the country this December, saying the firms undermined Afghan security.  Talk of the ban raised concerns about the safety of international development and aid workers in the country.

    The issue came to a head last week, creating what Holbrooke referred to as "a lot of tension in the air."  "I thought a lot about it, and here's my honest, candid answer to you: It's that the international community, including our own government, did not pay enough attention to the Afghan government's repeated statements that they were serious," he said.   

    Holbrooke said the issue is now under control, and that he can sympathize with Mr. Karzai's position, calling the current situation "intolerable and untenable."  

    Private security contractors have been accused of reckless behavior and endangering Afghan civilians.  

    The U.S. envoy also praised the signing of a transit trade agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan in Kabul on Thursday. Holbrooke said that agreement had been in the works for more than 40 years.

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