Pompeo meets Taleban, Afghan officials in Qatar as violence continues

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives for a meeting with Taleban's peace negotiation team, in Doha, on Nov 21, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

DOHA (BLOOMBERG) - Secretary of State Michael Pompeo met officials from the Taleban and Afghan government in Qatar on Saturday (Nov 21) as the US seeks to keep peace negotiations on track amid renewed violence and a surprise move by the White House to accelerate the withdrawal of US troops.

The Trump administration will "sit on the side and help where we can," Pompeo said at a meeting with Sayed Sadat Mansoor Naderi, Afghanistan's state minister for peace and a member of the negotiating team. "I would be most interested in getting your thoughts on how we can increase the probability of successful outcome that I know we share."

Pompeo made no remarks at the start of a meeting with Naderi's Taleban counterpart. He met with the two sides in Doha hours after rockets struck several neighborhoods in Kabul, killing at least eight people. The Taleban denied involvement in the attack.

A senior US official, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks, said Pompeo's message would be that both sides need to seize the moment and agree to a deal to avoid even more violence as US troops pull out.

Pompeo is also seeking to keep up momentum for the peace negotiations, which began in September. Those talks were roiled by the Trump administration's surprise announcement this week that it will cut troops from about 4,500 to 2,500 by Jan 15, with the president seeking to a complete withdrawal by May 2021.

The move appeared to violate the terms of a US agreement with the Taleban that had said such troop reductions would depend on conditions in Afghanistan.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan since the negotiations began, and fears are high that Trump's decision to draw down US troops sooner than earlier planned gives militants a free hand to try and gain further control over the country.

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