San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday)

Pom­peo presses peace talks amid grow­ing vi­o­lence

- By Thomas Gib­bon­sN­eff and Fa­tima Faizi

KABUL — Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo on Satur­day vis­ited the Gulf na­tion of Qatar, where he met with Afghan and Tal­iban ne­go­tia­tors who are try­ing to break a dead­lock in their stalled peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. He landed hours af­ter a deadly rocket at­tack in Kabul, the lat­est ev­i­dence of the vi­o­lence es­ca­lat­ing across Afghanista­n.

The rocket bar­rage slammed into the heart of Kabul, killing at least eight peo­ple and wound­ing more than two dozen. The at­tack early Satur­day set off warn­ing sirens that blared across the diplo­matic quar­ters of the Afghan cap­i­tal, and res­i­dents on their morn­ing com­mute took cover.

The Is­lamic State group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, ac­cord­ing to the SITE In­tel­li­gence Group, which mon­i­tors Is­lamic State group an­nounce­ments. The group is seen by many ex­perts as one of the pri­mary spoil­ers for any fu­ture peace in Afghanista­n.

Qatar is the lat­est stop on Pom­peo’s whirl­wind lap of diplo­macy in the wan­ing hours of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, look­ing to push for­ward White House for­eign pol­icy ob­jec­tives be­fore Pres­i­den­t­elect Joe Bi­den takes of­fice in Jan­uary. The Pen­tagon said last week that it would re­duce the num­ber of U. S. troops in Afghanista­n by nearly half — to 2,500, down from 4,500 by midJan­uary.

The troop with­drawal has sown un­cer­tainty among Afghan of­fi­cials, who are hop­ing for a pol­icy change un­der Bi­den. Afghan se­cu­rity forces, still re­liant on U. S. air strikes, have strug­gled to de­fend ter­ri­tory from re­cent Tal­iban of­fen­sives.

In Doha, Qatar, which has been host­ing the peace talks, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the Tal­iban have been wrestling over two main stick­ing points for months, and ne­go­tia­tors from both sides have said in re­cent days that they are close to a breakthrou­gh.

The United States will “sit on the side and help where we can,” Pom­peo said to the Afghan 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.”

Fawzia Koofi, one of the Afghan gov­ern­ment ne­go­tia­tors, said they had asked Pom­peo to put more pres­sure on the Tal­iban to ac­cept a na­tion­wide cease­fire and to not with­draw U. S. troops so quickly, adding that Pom­peo did not ad­dress the is­sue.

Thomas Gib­bon­sN­eff and Fa­tima Faizi are New York Times writ­ers.

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