Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a visit to Afghanistan that the US is close to finishing a draft deal with the Taliban to ensure the country doesn’t become a terrorist haven, paving the way for talks on withdrawing American troops after 18 years of war.
Pompeo made the remarks from the US embassy in Kabul during the unannounced visit in which he met with Afghan leaders including President Ashraf Ghani and former President Hamid Karzai, who remains an influential figure and has acted as a go-between with the Taliban and with nations with stakes in Afghanistan’s future.
Pompeo said the US and the Taliban had made “real progress” and are almost ready to draft an agreement that would ensure Afghan soil “never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.’’ In light of that, “we’ve begun discussions with the Taliban regarding foreign military presence which remains conditions-based,’’ Pompeo said.
He made clear there was still no timeline on withdrawing NATO forces. US troops have been in Afghanistan since after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The top US diplomat underscored that the Trump administration remains committed to a four-issue agenda outlined after weeks of discussions with the Taliban by the State Department envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad: counterterrorism, the presence of foreign troops, a dialogue between Afghans and a permanent ceasefire.
Pompeo’s suggestion that an agreement on terrorism and troops could precede the Afghan dialogue suggested a slight shift in position from the one articulated by Khalilzad, who has repeatedly said “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.’’ The talks had stalled in recent weeks, done in chiefly by the Taliban’s refusal to sit down with Ghani’s government and the government’s wariness of entering talks with a group whose gains have only increased in recent years.
Donald Trump has said he wants to pull US troops out of Afghanistan and approved letting his envoys enter into substantive talks with the Taliban.