Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group America needs a new strategy for Pacific Island Countries MORE will leave for Doha, Qatar, on Thursday night for the start of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE announced.
The intra-Afghan talks, which are expected to start Saturday, mark a major milestone in implementing the withdrawal agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February.
“The start of these talks marks a historic opportunity for Afghanistan to bring an end to four decades of war and bloodshed,” Pompeo said in a separate statement Thursday after the Taliban and Afghan government announced the start of talks.
“This opportunity must not be squandered,” Pompeo added. “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. The people of Afghanistan and the international community will be watching closely. The United States is prepared to support as requested.”
The State Department also said after Trump's news conference Pompeo would attend the negotiations's opening ceremony Saturday.
The start of talks gives Trump something to point to weeks before an election where he is campaigning in part by arguing he is ending America’s so-called endless wars.
“The negotiations are a result of a bold diplomatic effort on the part of my administration in recent months and years,” Trump said at a news conference. “The United States will play an important role in bringing the parties together to end the decades-long war. It’s been going on for almost 20 years. Long before I got involved, I can tell you that.”
Still, significant questions remain on whether intra-Afghan negotiations will be successful in ending the 19-year war, given the far gap between the Afghan government and the Taliban on issues such as a ceasefire and women’s rights.
The Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in February that lays out a timeline for a full U.S. withdrawal from the country if the insurgents honor their commitment to prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan to launch attacks against the West.
In line with the U.S.-Taliban deal, the U.S. military dropped to about 8,600 troops in Afghanistan earlier this summer. On Thursday, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie affirmed plans to draw down to about 4,500 by late October or early November, after Trump and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperMilley and China — what the Senate really needs to know Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war MORE previously said there would be less than 5,000 troops there by Election Day.
The U.S.-Taliban agreement was also supposed to proceed intra-Afghan negotiations — specified in the document as starting in March — but the talks were repeatedly delayed amid a halted prisoner swap.
The U.S. withdrawal is not conditioned on the talks. But their delay, as well as stepped-up Taliban attacks on Afghan forces, has fueled criticism that the Trump administration’s deal was failing.
Updated at 5:02 p.m.