WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called persistent Taliban attacks in Afghanistan an unacceptable impediment to the peace process that began when the U.S. signed an agreement with the militant group last weekend.
“In no uncertain terms, violence must be reduced immediately for the peace process to move forward,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington on Thursday following a wave of Taliban attacks against military outposts that’s killed about 20 Afghan soldiers.
Pompeo said the Trump administration still thinks Taliban leaders are working to deliver on commitments they made in the Feb. 29 agreement in Doha. Under that deal, the U.S. will begin withdrawing forces in exchange for Taliban commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and Islamic State, followed by talks officials this month.
Along with the attacks on Afghan forces, a key sticking point has been the fate of as many as 5,000 Taliban prisoners. Taliban officials have said that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government must release those prisoners, suggesting that broader peace talks can’t occur until he does. Ghani has balked, reluctant to give up a key source of leverage in future talks.
Pompeo appeared to support the Taliban demand for negotiations over prisoner releases to happen now.
“While a reduction in violence is paramount, we also continue to press all sides to stop posturing, start a practical discussion about prisoner releases, knuckle down, and prepare for the upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations,” Pompeo said, adding that the U.S. envoy for the peace process, Zalmay Khalilzad, was in Kabul working on the prisoner issue.