U.S. official says Taliban is interested in talking

BRUSSELS — Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Friday that Taliban associates have been reaching out for talks about ending the war but that formal negotiations are not taking place.

Holbrooke spoke a day after a senior NATO official confirmed that the alliance has provided safe passage for Taliban leaders to travel to Kabul for face-to-face talks with the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The account was the most detailed yet of the U.S. and NATO role in the clandestine talks, aimed at bringing an end to the war in Afghanistan.

Afghan government discussions with the Taliban have been described as mostly informal and indirect message exchanges relying on mediators.

The Taliban has denied any contacts with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, insisting that all foreign troops withdraw first.

Holbrooke said Friday that, thanks to "tremendously increased military pressure" on the insurgents, "There have been an increasing number of people associated with the Taliban who've reached out and said: 'We want to talk about an alternative to the war.'

"This does not constitute a formal negotiation, but it falls in the category of reintegration," he told journalists.

Soldier to be tried

SEATTLE — The Army said Friday it will try one of the soldiers accused of killing three civilians in Afghanistan for murder.

Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, 22, is accused of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, assault and impeding an official investigation.

Morlock is one of five soldiers accused of killing civilians for sport in a recent Stryker brigade deployment. All have denied the accusations.

Morlock, if convicted, could face life in prison.

Investigative and other records portray some of the most serious allegations to emerge from the Afghan war: a gruesome plot to randomly execute civilians in Kandahar Province.

Some soldiers have said they feared they would be killed if they blew the whistle.

Wikileaks' harm

WASHINGTON — No U.S. intelligence sources or practices were compromised by the posting of secret Afghan war logs by the WikiLeaks website, the Pentagon has concluded.

The assessment, outlined in a letter obtained Friday by the Associated Press, suggests that some of the Obama administration's worst fears about the July disclosure of almost 77,000 secret U.S. war reports have so far failed to materialize.

WikiLeaks, a self-described whistleblower website, is believed to be preparing to release an even larger set of classified Pentagon documents on the Iraq war as early as Sunday.

A plague of flies

KABUL, Afghanistan — An outbreak of a tropical disease caused by sand fly bites that leaves disfiguring skin sores has hit Afghanistan, with tens of thousands of people infected, health officials said Friday.

Cutaneous leishmanisis, a parasitic disease transmitted by the phlebotomine sand fly is treatable and not life-threatening but can leave severe scars.

In Kabul, described by the World Health Organization as the epicenter of the outbreaks, cases have jumped from an estimated 17,000 a year in the early 2000s to 65,000 in 2009.

Most victims are women and children, who spend more time indoors at night, where the sand flies prefer to bite.

Peter Graaff, WHO representative to Afghanistan, said Friday that the stigma and shame attached to the disfiguring disease results in under-reporting, and the number of infected people is likely much higher.

Death tolls

NATO: Three NATO troops were killed Friday in a surge of attacks that raised the death toll to 17 in three days for international troops in the country. Details were unavailable. It has been the deadliest year for international forces in the nine-year Afghan conflict.

Pakistan: Suspected U.S. unmanned aircraft launched two missiles at a vehicle in the Pakistani tribal region along the Afghan border Friday, killing three people, Pakistani intelligence officials said. Also, a militant attack on an army checkpoint killed five Pakistani soldiers, other officials said.

U.S. official says Taliban is interested in talking 10/15/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 15, 2010 11:58pm]

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