U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Monday to step up the Trump administration’s calls for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Flying into Kabul after visiting Vietnam, Pompeo made the appeal in meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
“The United States will support, facilitate and participate in these discussions,” Pompeo later told journalists, stressing that any talks would be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.”
Pompeo added: “The region and the world are all tired of what are taking place here in the same way that the Afghan people are no longer interested in seeing war.”
However, it remains unclear how the Taliban will take such an offer after nearly 17 years of war. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terror attacks by al-Qaida, which the Taliban government at the time had harbored.
Since then, the insurgents have repeatedly rejected such calls, demanding direct talks with the United States.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had extended a recent holiday cease-fire in hopes of encouraging the militants to come to the bargaining table, but the Taliban rejected the offer and resumed attacks. The Taliban have seized control of several districts across the country in recent years, and launch near-daily attacks, mainly targeting security forces. An increasingly powerful Islamic State affiliate has also stepped up attacks in recent months.
Speaking at Monday’s news conference, Ghani praised the Trump administration’s South Asia strategy, which included sending more American forces and pressuring neighboring Pakistan to do more to stop militants coming over its border into Afghanistan.
“Because of this strategy and the conditions-based nature of it, we, the members of the government, have been able to take bold steps outside the box and articulate an agenda of peace that is truly comprehensive and asks for engagement,” Ghani said, citing the recent cease-fire.
Pompeo also added, perhaps optimistically given Afghanistan’s long history of resisting foreign forces, that the Taliban were “beginning to see that they cannot wait us out.”
Pompeo left Afghanistan for the United Arab Emirates, where he will meet Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a staunch U.S. ally, amid his country’s war in Yemen. The UAE is highly suspicious of Iran and welcomed President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.