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 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 with the U.S. 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 between the Taliban and Afghanistan 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.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel on Wednesday that the Taliban has staged “small, low-level attacks at checkpoints” but has kept to “a whole laundry list” of promises in the Doha accord, including no “high-profile attacks” in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, or other major cities and no suicide bombings.
Pompeo also had harsh words for the International Criminal Court, which ruled earlier on Thursday in favor of its chief prosecutor opening an investigation into possible war crimes by both Americans and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“This is a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body,” Pompeo said. He declined to say what the U.S. might do, but said an announcement would probably come in a couple of weeks. Last year, the U.S. revoked the chief prosecutor’s visa over her investigation into allegations of war crimes.
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