ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan's Taliban militants are casting further doubt on prospects for peace talks with the Kabul government.
In a Pashto language statement given Saturday to VOA, the Taliban said their leadership had not yet decided to engage in talks with Kabul. They said they believed talks could not be productive until all foreign forces had left Afghanistan, sanctions on insurgent leaders had been removed and Taliban prisoners had been freed.
The statement said U.S. night raids in Afghanistan were continuing. It added that fresh American forces had been deployed to the battlefield and that Afghan forces had also intensified their operations. The Taliban said that in the light of those developments, peace talks would be meaningless.
In Washington on Saturday, the State Department urged Taliban leaders to change their minds and commit to talks.
"The Taliban have a choice — to join good-faith negotiations for peace, or continue to fight a war in which they are killing their fellow Afghans and destroying their country," a spokesman said in a statement. "If they choose the latter course, they will continue to face the combined efforts of the Afghan security forces and their international partners."
Diplomats from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the U.S. who have organized the talks had hoped the conference would begin the first week in March.
Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan, Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal, told VOA on Friday that "there is a lot happening in the background" and said he expected peace talks to start within days.
In a video conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday, President Barack Obama stressed U.S. support for a peace process that he said "reduces violence and ensures lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region."
White House officials said both presidents intended to use the July NATO summit in Warsaw to reaffirm international support for peace in Afghanistan.
Obama announced late last year that he was postponing the withdrawal of most U.S. forces in Afghanistan for one year, until he leaves office in January 2017.
U.S. troops are training Afghan forces in taking full responsibility for providing their own security against the Taliban and other militants.