KABUL – United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed long-awaited “historic” peace talks between the Afghan government and the insurgent Taliban while on his way to the opening event in Qatar’s capital of Doha, late on Thursday.
The United States has been attempting to ease negotiations between the two warring sides since signing a troop withdrawal deal with the militants in February, but the process was hit by delays over disagreements about the release of prisoners.
“It’s taken us longer than I wish that it had to get from February 29 to here but we expect Saturday morning…to have the Afghans sitting at the table together prepared to have what will be contentious discussions about how to move their country forward,” Pompeo told reporters shortly after taking off from Washington on Thursday evening. “(It’s) truly historic.”
His arrival in Doha on Friday would coincide with the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States that triggered U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan against the Taliban, who harboured Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda militant leader who plotted the attacks.
A diplomatic source in Kabul said that the start of talks had been arranged to ensure it did not fall on the anniversary.
Afghan negotiators were set to fly to Doha on Friday afternoon ahead of the opening ceremony, according to the presidential palace.
A jet had picked up six prisoners demanded by the Taliban from Kabul on Thursday. Some Western governments had objected to their release, and as a compromise it was agreed that they would be kept under supervision in Qatar.
France and Australia said overnight that they objected to the prisoners being released from Afghan prisons.