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No secret talks with U.S.: senior Taliban commander

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A senior Afghan Taliban commander on Monday denied that the group held secret talks with U.S. officials which had reached a turning point.

"How can talks be at a critical point when they have not even started," the commander told Reuters by telephone in response to comments by U.S. officials who say talks have been taking place for 10 months and had reached a turning point.

Senior U.S. officials say they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war.

As part of the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy, Reuters has learned, the United States is considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.

The Taliban have publicly maintained they will not enter into any negotiations while foreign troops are in Afghanistan, so even if they are participating, they might be reluctant to admit that.

Commanders might also worry about morale among fighters on the ground, if their believed their leaders were in talks.

"Our position on talks remains the same. All occupying forces have to leave Afghanistan. Then we can talk," said the commander from an undisclosed location.

There is a precedent for the Taliban to respond to events based on political motives rather than their actual role.

Recently, a spokesman for the group initially claimed and later denied responsibility for the September assassination of peace envoy and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad; Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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