Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association – Pence lauds Harris as ‘experienced debater’; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep Trump’s foreign policy successes confound his detractors It’s time for a Jackson-Vanik Amendment for China MORE will leave for Doha, Qatar, on Thursday night for the start of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBarr criticizes DOJ in speech declaring all agency power ‘is invested in the attorney general’ Military leaders asked about using heat ray on protesters outside White House: report Powell warns failure to reach COVID-19 deal could ‘scar and damage’ economy MORE announced.
The intra-Afghan talks, which are expected to start Saturday, mark a major milestone in implementing the withdrawal agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February.
“The start of these talks marks a historic opportunity for Afghanistan to bring an end to four decades of war and bloodshed,” Pompeo said in a separate statement Thursday after the Taliban and Afghan government announced the start of talks.
“This opportunity must not be squandered,” Pompeo added. “Immense sacrifice and investment by the United States, our partners, and the people of Afghanistan have made this moment of hope possible. I urge the negotiators to demonstrate the pragmatism, restraint and flexibility this process will require to succeed. The people of Afghanistan and the international community will be watching closely. The United States is prepared to support as requested.”
The State Department also said after Trump’s news conference Pompeo would attend the negotiations’s opening ceremony Saturday.
The start of talks gives Trump something to point to weeks before an election where he is campaigning in part by arguing he is ending America’s so-called endless wars.
“The negotiations are a result of a bold diplomatic effort on the part of my administration in recent months and years,” Trump said at a news conference. “The United States will play an important role in bringing the parties together to end the decades-long war. It’s been going on for almost 20 years. Long before I got involved, I can tell you that.”
Still, significant questions remain on whether intra-Afghan negotiations will be successful in ending the 19-year war, given the far gap between the Afghan government and the Taliban on issues such as a ceasefire and women’s rights.
The Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in February that lays out a timeline for a full U.S. withdrawal from the country if the insurgents honor their commitment to prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan to launch attacks against the West.
In line with the U.S.-Taliban deal, the U.S. military dropped to about 8,600 troops in Afghanistan earlier this summer. On Thursday, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie affirmed plans to draw down to about 4,500 by late October or early November, after Trump and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to ‘forever chemicals’ Oldest living US World War II veteran turns 111 Overnight Defense: US marks 19th anniversary of 9/11 attacks | Trump awards Medal of Honor to Army Ranger for hostage rescue mission | Bahrain, Israel normalizing diplomatic ties MORE previously said there would be less than 5,000 troops there by Election Day.
The U.S.-Taliban agreement was also supposed to proceed intra-Afghan negotiations — specified in the document as starting in March — but the talks were repeatedly delayed amid a halted prisoner swap.
The U.S. withdrawal is not conditioned on the talks. But their delay, as well as stepped-up Taliban attacks on Afghan forces, has fueled criticism that the Trump administration’s deal was failing.
Updated at 5:02 p.m.