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Afghan, Taliban Officials Discuss Country's Future

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks to the media during a news conference, December 12, 2012.
Afghan officials are meeting with the Taliban and other militant groups to discuss the country's future as NATO forces prepare for a 2014 withdrawal.

France is hosting the two-day closed-door session which begins on Thursday near Paris.

The meeting marks the first time that Taliban officials, senior leaders of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and members of the country's High Peace Council have held face-to-face talks on the country's future.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai set up the Peace Council in 2010 in a bid to start dialogue with Taliban militants and persuade them to end violence and join the political reconciliation process.

In a Wednesday news conference, Karzai said his country had a "desire for peace" and supported "all real and honest steps taken for peace."

The meeting comes on the heels of France ending its combat mission in Afghanistan. The country, on Tuesday, withdrew its remaining 500 combat troops from a province northeast of the capital, Kabul.

Hizb-e-Islami representative Ghairat Baheer says his militant group and the Taliban are attending the meeting in France because they admire the French government's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

He said as long as there is a foreign troop presence in Afghanistan, "there would not be any peaceful solution to the conflict."

France had been the fifth-largest contributor to the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, President Karzai, on Thursday, said he welcomed an announcement from Britain that it would be pulling out nearly half of its troops next year.

Britain currently has about 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, the second largest force after the United States.

In another development on Thursday, Afghan coalition forces said they killed a Taliban leader, named Mahjur, and another insurgent, during a security operation, on Wednesday, in Kunar province.

In a Thursday statement, the coalition said Mahjur had planned attacks against Afghan government officials and coalition forces.