Qatar’s prime minister met secretly with the Taliban’s top leader earlier this month in Afghanistan, two sources familiar with the meeting confirmed to CNN.
The meeting happened in the southern city of Kandahar on May 12, between the Taliban Supreme Leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada and Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani.
The meeting, first reported by Reuters, is believed to be the first between Akhundzada and a foreign leader.
The Biden administration was quickly briefed by Qatar in Washington and then in a phone call the day after the meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Al-Thani, who also serves as foreign minister. A brief readout by the State Department on May 13 only noted Blinken’s “appreciation for Qatar’s continued assistance on Afghanistan.”
CNN has reached out to the US State Department and the Qatari Embassy in the US for comment.
Qatar’s Al Jazeera reported a few days later that Al-Thani had visited the Afghan capital as part of “facilitating the relations between the caretaker [Taliban] government and the international community…”
American officials have met occasionally with Taliban representatives in the Qatari capital, Doha, since the US left Afghanistan in August 2021 amid the Taliban takeover of the country.
Despite American warnings to the Taliban not harbor terrorists, Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri took up residence in Kabul before being killed in a US drone strike last July.
Qatar serves as the US protecting power in Afghanistan, where it does not have a diplomatic presence. The diplomatic compound in Kabul – once one of the largest US Embassies in the world – has been shuttered since August 2021, and the US relocated its diplomatic mission to Doha.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting.