A US military spokesman said on Wednesday that talks with the Afghan Taliban on ending the war in Afghanistan are unlikely anytime soon after the militant group chose a conservative religious scholar as its new leader.
It was the first time that an American military official has publicly voiced doubts that US President Barack Obama will realise a key foreign policy goal of bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table after years of war before he leaves office in January.
Last week, the Afghan Taliban selected Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader after the United States killed their former chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in a drone strike in Pakistan.
“I don´t believe that we will see peace talks any time in the short-term with Mullah Haibatullah,” US Army Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, said in a media briefing.
Cleveland said that while Akhundzada was “not really a military guy, and really not a money guy,” he should not be underestimated. The general added that while he was not optimistic about senior Taliban leaders joining negotiations, there is hope that lower level Taliban members would engage in talks.
The Taliban is currently controlling eight to 10 districts in Afghanistan, according to Cleveland, but the militants “certainly have the ability to contest a lot more of those.