No one said that the Taliban's agreement to participate in direct talks with the U.S. would be easy. But the plan's first big challenge occurred just hours after its unveiling, when four U.S. soldiers died as a result of "indirect fire" from an insurgent attack at Bagram air base, according to a U.S. official cited in multiple media reports. The conditions laid out by the U.S. as prerequisites for the direct talks include a renouncement of violence from the Taliban.
Authorities aren't confirming very much about the attacks, and it's not clear precisely who was behind it. Bagram air base is the largest of its kind used by U.S. troops in the country. Today, Afghan forces took over security responsibilities from the NATO coalition. While NATO, and the U.S., will continue to serve an advisory role in Afghanistan until 2014, they'll likely have to step in more directly as violence continues across the country.
While the Taliban's willingness to participate in direct talks is a milestone, in a way — it'd be the first time in the entire 12-year so-called "war on terror" began that such a thing had happened — it's got a long way to go before the two groups get in the same book, let alone on the same page, on some key issues. Earlier this year, the Taliban had called for a "spring offensive" in Afghanistan against western targets. And while it looks like maybe that plan is at least sidelined, the group is still indicating strong reluctance to condemn al Qaeda directly. So far, the Taliban agreed to release a statement indicating that "they would not allow anyone to threaten or harm other countries from Afghan soil," as the Guardian's report on the talks put it. As we explained earlier today, the negotiations, scheduled to begin Thursday, will probably be very, very messy.
The Taliban is opening an office in Doha, Qatar, to facilitate ongoing talks with the Afghan government. That's where the U.S. talks are going to be, too. It looks like their response — or possible lack thereof — on today's attack could be an interesting starting point.
PHOTO: Soldiers pray at Bagram air force base in an undated photo (AP/HANDOUT)