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Afghan threat over US talks with Taliban

Afghan peace talks could be derailed before they even begin after president Hamid Karzai halted talks with the US on a new security deal to protest at being left out of initial negotiations with the Taliban aimed at ending the 12-year war.

In a terse statement Mr Karzai said negotiations with the US on what American and coalition security forces will remain in the country after 2014 have been put on hold. He did not say how long the suspension would last.

The statement followed the announcement by the US and the Taliban that they would pursue bilateral talks in Qatar before the Afghan government was brought in.

"In view of the contradiction between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the peace process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations, currently underway in Kabul between Afghan and US delegations on the bilateral security agreement," the statement said.

Although the Taliban have dismissed Mr Karzai as an American puppet for years, they indicated when opening a new political office in Doha, Qatar, that they would be willing to talk with him.

But both the Americans and the Taliban said they would first meet together before any talks with the Afghanistan government.

In another incident highlighting the fragile situation in Afghanistan, only hours after announcing they would hold talks with the US, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Bagram Air Base which killed four American troops.

And five Afghan police officers were killed at a security outpost in Helmand province by apparent Taliban infiltrators - the latest in a string of so-called "insider attacks" that have shaken the confidence of the nascent Afghan security forces.

The opening of a Taliban political office in Doha with the intention of starting peace talks was a reversal of months of failed efforts to start negotiations while Taliban militants intensified a campaign targeting urban centers and government installations across Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama cautioned that the peace talks with the Taliban would be neither quick nor easy but that their opening a political office in Doha was an "important first step toward reconciliation" between the Islamic militants and the government of Afghanistan.

In setting up the office, the Taliban said they were willing to use all legal means to end what they called the occupation of Afghanistan - but did not say they would immediately stop fighting.

American officials said the US and Taliban representatives will hold bilateral meetings in the coming days. Mr Karzai's High Peace Council had been expected to follow up with its own talks with the Taliban a few days later but it was now not clear whether that would happen.

The Taliban announcement followed a milestone handover in Afghanistan earlier Tuesday as Afghan forces formally took the lead from the Nato coalition for security nationwide. The handover paves the way for the departure of the majority of coalition forces - currently numbering about 100,000 troops from 48 countries - within 18 months.

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