Mike Pompeo travels to Qatar for Taliban talks
The US announced on Thursday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is flying to Doha to attend the opening ceremony of the Afghanistan peace negotiations, due to begin on Saturday.
“The start of these negotiations follows intense diplomatic efforts, including the US-Taliban agreement and the US-Afghanistan joint declaration, which were agreed to in February,” the State Department said.
We will be down to 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan very soon and down to 2,000 in Iraq very soon
US President Donald Trump announced the trip for the talks between the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban insurgents, tying it to plans to withdraw 4,000 American troops from the country.
“No deaths, no problems since early February,” Mr Trump said. "We are getting along very, very well with the Taliban."
February was the date of the US deal with the Taliban.
But on Wednesday, a bombing in the Afghan capital hit the convoy of the country’s first vice president, killing 10 people and wounding at least 31.
The vice president, Amrullah Saleh, survived the attack unharmed.
“We will be down to 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan very soon and down to 2,000 in Iraq very soon,” Mr Trump said on Thursday.
The US has now 8,500 troops in the country, and Mr Trump is hoping that a peace agreement between different factions there would allow him to pull the soldiers out and end America's longest war.
The US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading the negotiations, left for Doha last week to promote reconciliation talks.
But Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, said Mr Pompeo’s trip was a sign of US eagerness to withdraw – and a boost for the Taliban.
The timing is also relevant to the US election, said Mr Haqqani, who is also a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
"From Trump’s point of view, it would be the fulfilment of a promise from the last election campaign ahead of next month’s election,” he said.
Mr Haqqani told The National that the Taliban were the winners with US concessions including the withdrawal.
“The US has made all the concessions and the Taliban feel victorious," he said.
"It is difficult to imagine how virtually surrendering to the Taliban will bring peace to Afghanistan."
A study by Foreign Policy magazine released last week indicated that most of the Taliban fighters who were released after the February 29 agreement have returned to the battlefront.
“Sixty-eight per cent, of the 108 former Taliban prisoners profiled for the research have already been reintegrated into the Taliban and have resumed active roles in the conflict," the report said.
On Thursday, Mr Trump also announced the nomination of William Ruger as the next ambassador to Afghanistan.
Mr Ruger is a strong advocate for withdrawing US troops in Afghanistan.
A former veteran, he serves as vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute.