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Taliban deny high-level contact with Afghan government

By Ivan Watson, CNN
  • Petraeus' remarks are downplayed
  • Afghanistan has formed a peace council
  • Militants reaffirm stance: Foreigners must go

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The Taliban rejected Wednesday claims made by the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan that high level militant leaders have been in contact with the Afghan government.

"Contrary to the claims by the morale-sagging General Petraeus," a Taliban spokesman wrote in a statement e-mailed to CNN, "mujahedeen want to further organize and speed up their programs rather than kicking off contacts with the crumbling Kabul administration."

On Monday, The New York Times quoted U.S. Gen. David Petraeus as saying, "there are very high-level Taliban leaders who have sought to reach out to the highest levels of the Afghan government."

Petraeus expressed support for Afghan government efforts to negotiate with the Taliban, saying "this is the way you end insurgencies."

The Afghan government says it has contacts with the Taliban, but has tried to downplay Petraeus' remarks.

"There are no substantive negotiations or substantive dialogue with the armed opposition," said Waheed Omar, a spokesman for the Afghan president, in an interview with CNN on Tuesday.

"We hope that after the establishment of the peace council," he added "we will enter into a serious substantive dialogue with the opposition."

Omar spoke moments after announcing the creation of a "High Peace Council" assigned the mandate of paving the way towards peace with the Taliban.

In its e-mailed statement, the Taliban ridiculed the creation of the peace council, suggesting it was a sign of weakness.

"The public of the world are witness to the fact that the current year was the most fatal for the enemy according to their own admission," the Taliban wrote.

This has been the bloodiest year yet for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. At least 537 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, including at least 358 U.S. forces.

In its statement, the Taliban appeared repeat its conditions for an end to the war:

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan reaffirms once again that the solution of the Afghan issue lies in the withdrawal of foreign invaders from Afghanistan, not in initiating secret contacts with the powerless stooges of the invaders."