US to cut Afghan aid after failing to end political rivals' feud

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced a US$1 billion cut in US aid to Afghanistan after he failed to convince Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political foe to end a feud that has helped jeopardise a US-led peace effort.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

DOHA/KABUL • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced a US$1 billion (S$1.45 billion) cut in American aid to Afghanistan, after he failed to convince Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political foe Abdullah Abdullah to end a feud that has helped jeopardise a US-led peace effort.

The US is also prepared to cut next year's assistance by the same amount, and is conducting "a review of all of our programmes and projects to identify additional reductions, and reconsider our pledges to future donor conferences for Afghanistan", Mr Pompeo said in a statement on Monday.

The statement came as he flew home from a fruitless day-long effort in Kabul to end competing claims to the presidency by Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah and win their agreement to form "an inclusive government".

The harshly worded announcement at the end of the surprise mission he undertook despite the spreading coronavirus pandemic underscored how badly stalled the US-led effort to end America's longest war and decades of strife in Afghanistan has become.

The United States "deeply regrets" that Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah were "unable to agree on an inclusive government", said Mr Pompeo in the statement.

He added: "Their failure has harmed US-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonours those Afghans, Americans, and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure."

On his way back to Washington, Mr Pompeo landed at a military base in Qatar for a meeting with Taleban officials.

Speaking to reporters after departing Qatar, Mr Pompeo declined to detail how the US$1 billion in aid cuts would be apportioned or whether he had set a deadline for Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah, who had served as Afghanistan's chief executive, to settle their dispute.

But he indicated that the aid cut could be cancelled if they came to an agreement. In the meantime, Mr Pompeo said, the US would continue backing Afghan security forces while continuing a phased "conditions-based" troop withdrawal as specified in a deal signed with the Taleban in Doha on Feb 29.

He said that despite ongoing fighting, the Taleban has largely fulfilled a commitment to reduce violence and was working to form a team for intra-Afghan peace talks.

Mr Pompeo's mission came about a month after his visit to Doha for the signing of the deal between Washington and the Taleban.

US-AFGHAN RELATIONS HARMED

Their failure has harmed US-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonours those Afghans, Americans, and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure.

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO

The agreement was to have been followed by the opening, by March 10, of negotiations on a political settlement to decades of strife between the insurgents and a delegation of Afghans that would include government officials.

But the process stalled over the Taleban's demand for the release by Kabul of 5,000 prisoners and the feud between Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah, both of whom claimed the presidency following a disputed September election marred by allegations of fraud.

While in Kabul, Mr Pompeo met Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah, both separately and together.

A spokesman for Mr Ghani declined to comment on the meetings while Mr Omid Maisam, a spokesman for Mr Abdullah, said a solution to the crisis was "not impossible".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2020, with the headline 'US to cut Afghan aid after failing to end political rivals' feud'. Print Edition | Subscribe