His nuclear diplomacy with North Korea finished for the moment, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo made a previously unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday and offered support for the Kabul government’s peace talks with Taliban insurgents.
Pompeo told reporters that the United States was willing to sit down with the Taliban to negotiate but that talks would have to be Afghan-led.
He said President Trump’s open-ended deployment of nearly 15,000 American troops was helping to pacify the country 16 years after the United States invaded, and that the administration’s aggressive strategy is setting “the conditions to produce a safer, more secure Afghanistan.”
But Pompeo’s quick, heavily guarded visit reflected the country’s continuing instability and deteriorating security as it gears up for parliamentary elections this summer.
Pompeo landed at Bagram Airfield, flew in a smaller plane to a State Department hangar at a smaller airport in Kabul, flew again in a military helicopter to the fortified U.S. Embassy, and then drove a few hundred yards to the presidential palace in an armored vehicle.
Although the Taliban has been unable to regain the country it once controlled, it has proved resilient and resurgent, launching a series of high-profile attacks. The militants now control roughly half of Afghanistan. Civilian casualties, despite a recent temporary ceasefire, continue at record levels. Elections are scheduled for the fall, and Afghans are fearful of widespread violence as in the past.
While U.S. and allied troops are mostly in garrison-like compounds, Pompeo said U.S. resolve has proven to the Taliban that it cannot win militarily.
“The strategy has sent a clear message to the Taliban: They cannot wait us out,” he said, “And we are beginning to see the results both on the battlefield where the Taliban’s momentum is slowing and in the prospects for peace with them.”
The Trump administration has previously said it would sit down in peace talks with the Taliban but would not commit to concessions. The Taliban has demanded all foreign military forces be evicted from the country.
Before leaving for Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates, Pompeo met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul.
Pompeo arrived in Kabul after three days of visits in Pyongyang, Tokyo and Hanoi in hopes of getting North Korea to fulfill its pledge at last month’s summit in Singapore to denuclearize. Pyongyang has taken no visible steps to give up or dismantle its nuclear weapons or production facilities. After Pompeo’s visit, Kim Jong Un’s government had harsh complaints, calling U.S. demands "unilateral, gangster-like."
Pompeo said negotiations with North Korea will be neither speedy nor easy.