A SENIOR Taliban official says the insurgent group has held the first direct talks with a US official in a preliminary discussion about future plans for a negotiated peace in Afghanistan.

This week’s meeting with Alice Wells, the US’s top diplomat for South Asia, was an attempt to jump-start talks on ending Washington’s longest military engagement, a senior Taliban official said.

US officials neither confirmed nor denied a meeting took place but it would mark a significant development in ending the country’s protracted war.

Ms Wells was in Doha, the Qatar capital, this week.

The State Department said only that Ms Wells had been in Doha, had met with the ruling family and “the United States is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan Government”.

The Taliban have long demanded direct talks with Washington.

“The discussion was preliminary, initial and both discussed a future meeting and contacts,” said the official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

It wasn’t clear when the next meeting would be held or with whom, but he was certain one would be held.

There are about 15,000 US and NATO troops still in Afghanistan.