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14 ex-Taliban members removed from U.N. sanctions

By David Ariosto, CNN
  • The U.N. Security Council removes sanctions on 14 ex-Taliban leaders
  • German ambassador to the U.N. says "engaging for peace pays off"
  • The Taliban were driven from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001
  • They have traditionally insisted foreign powers leave before negotiations can take place

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- In the latest sign of international efforts to forge a reconciliation process with militants in Afghanistan, the United Nations Security Council has removed sanctions on 14 former Taliban leaders.

German Ambassador to the U.N., Peter Wittig, said in a statement Friday that the "decision sends a strong signal: the Security Council and the international community support the efforts of the Afghan government to engage reconciled Taliban in a political dialog in order to achieve peace and security in Afghanistan."

Wittig heads the Security Council for the month of July.

Among the list are four members of a committee called the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, a group formed last year in September by Afghan authorities.

The four men are listed as Arsalan Rahmani Daulat, Habibullah Fawzi, Sayeedur Rahman Haqani and Faqir Mohammad, according to the statement.

It is not clear who else is on the U.N. list.

"All Afghans are encouraged to join these efforts," Wittig added. "The message is clear: engaging for peace pays off."

The Taliban, who were driven from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001, have traditionally insisted that foreign powers leave Afghanistan before negotiations can take place.

In June, then Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States had already engaged in peace talks with the Taliban.

Gates said "a political outcome is the way most of these wars end," but cautioned of the murky nature of war-time deliberations and the potential for false representatives.

"Who really represents the Taliban?" Gates asked. "We don't want to end up having a conversation at some point with somebody who is basically a freelancer."

The U.N.'s sanctions committee was established in 1999 when the Taliban controlled much of the country and offered sanctuary to al Qaeda, headed by former leader Osama bin laden.

Bin Laden was killed in a clandestine U.S. raid in Pakistan in May.

Friday's announcement comes just as the first group of departing U.S. soldiers left Afghanistan this week, beginning a drawdown of 10,000 American troops scheduled to leave by year's end.

The full drawdown is expected to take place by the end of 2014, gradually transferring responsibilities to Afghan government forces.