Kabul - The Taliban will not attend planned peace talks with the United States in Saudi Arabia this month and want to shift the venue to Qatar, reported Al Jazeera on Sunday, quoting a Western news agency.

The upcoming negotiations, the fourth in a series aimed at ending the 17-year war in Afghanistan, are scheduled between the leaders of the Taliban and US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces and a possible ceasefire in 2019.

Taliban leaders have rejected the Kabul government's offer for direct talks, despite growing international pressure in favour of the Western-backed Afghan government having a seat at the table.

"We were supposed to meet US officials in Riyadh next week and continue our peace process that remained incomplete in Abu Dhabi last month," a senior Taliban member based in Afghanistan told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.

"The problem is that leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates [UAE] wanted us to definitely meet the Afghan government delegation, which we cannot afford to do now, and we have cancelled the meeting in Saudi Arabia," he said.

The Taliban want to change the venue for the talks to Qatar, he added, the political headquarters of the group.

Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the group decided to cancel the meeting in Saudi Arabia, but did not provide information about a new meeting venue.

The United States Embassy in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Another senior Taliban leader said the group had explained to Saudi Arabia that it was not possible for the Taliban to meet the Afghan government at this stage.

"Everyone is aware of the fact that the Afghan government wanted the US and its allies not to leave Afghanistan and we have paid a heavy price to expel all foreign forces from our country," he said. "Why should we talk to the Afghan government?"

The Taliban regards the US as its main adversary in the Afghan war and views direct talks with Washington as a legitimate effort to seek the withdrawal of foreign troops before engaging with the Afghan government.

The war in Afghanistan is the US's longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly $1 trillion and killed tens of thousands of people. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have intensified since Taliban representatives began meeting with Khalilzad, an Afghan-born, US diplomat last year.

Officials from the warring sides have met at least three times, but fighting has not subsided.


Afghan special forces have rescued 12 people from a Taliban prison in the country's south on the same day that the militants kidnapped a group of 15 government employees in the west, officials said.

The National Directorate of Security (NDS), the country's main intelligence agency, said in a statement that special forces stormed a Taliban prison in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province and rescued 12 people who had been held hostage.

The NDS did not provide any further details on the raid in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold that is the centre of the country's opium production.

The statement came as officials in the western province of Farah said Taliban militants kidnapped a group of government employees.

Provincial council members Khair Mohammad Norzai and Dadullah Qaneh told the DPA news agency that the workers were kidnapped as they were heading to their offices on the outskirts of Farah city, the provincial capital.

Farah, located along the border with Iran, has been the scene of fierce clashes between government forces and the Taliban in recent months.