Efforts ramping up to get intra-Afghan peace talks started

Trump administration hopeful as Taliban-Afghan talks slated to begin Saturday

The State Department expressed hope for success in long-awaited peace talks between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and Taliban militants Thursday, after it was announced that the talks will begin Saturday — one day after the 19-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that set in motion America’s nearly two-decade occupation of Afghanistan.

Afghan media reports cited the government of Qatar as announcing Thursday that Afghan officials and Taliban representatives will gather Saturday in the Persian Gulf nation for the start of the so-called “intra-Afghan” talks that U.S. officials say will build from an initial peace deal the Trump administration reached with the Taliban back in February.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the “start of these talks marks a historic opportunity for Afghanistan to bring an end to four decades of war and bloodshed.

“The people of Afghanistan have carried the burden of war for too long. They yearn for peace. Only through an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led political process —one that respects the views of all Afghan communities, including women and ethnic and religious minorities — can the parties achieve a durable peace,” Mr. Pompeo said in a statement.

“This opportunity must not be squandered,” he said. “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.”

Recent prisoner exchanges between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul set the stage for Saturday’s talks, coming roughly six months after the Trump administration reached its own initial deal with the Taliban — a militant Islamist organization that has controlled large swaths of Afghan territory throughout nearly two-decades of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Under the February deal, the Taliban vowed to no longer harbor any outside terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and to begin talks with Kabul in exchange for a Trump administration commitment to draw down the 13,000 American troops in Afghanistan to about 8,600 before the end of 2020.

The Taliban, which controlled Kabul prior to the U.S. invasion 19 years ago, had harbored Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda organization during the lead up to the September 11, 2001 attacks that al Qaeda carried out against the United States.

Mr. Pompeo on Thursday emphasized the Taliban’s commitment in February to no longer tolerate the presence of any extremist terror groups. “The United States recalls the commitment by the Afghan government and the Taliban that terrorists can never again use Afghan soil to threaten the United States or its allies,” he said. “Now is the time for peace for Afghanistan.”

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