DOHA - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Doha Saturday, but there was no announcement of any breakthrough as Washington accelerates its military withdrawal.

Pompeo’s visit came in the wake of a rocket attack which struck densely populated areas of Kabul, killing at least eight people in the latest outbreak of violence in the Afghan capital. The Taliban denied responsibility and the Islamic State group claimed the deadly strike.

Pompeo met separately with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiation teams in a luxury hotel in the Qatari capital with his encounter with the radical Islamist insurgents lasting over an hour.

“I would be most interested in getting your thoughts on how we can increase the probability of a successful outcome”, Pompeo said as he met the Afghan government side, noting the shared interest in such a scenario.

 

He also met Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, the foreign minister, on his stop in Doha, which is the Taliban’s base for diplomacy.

But there was no announcement of any breakthrough in talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, ahead of Pompeo’s departure.

He flew on to Abu Dhabi for the next leg of his seven-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East, as President Donald Trump shores up late-term priorities.

Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, told AFP the government and the Taliban were “very close” to breaking a deadlock in talks.

“We are close, we are very close. Hopefully we pass this phase and get to the substantial issues” including security, he said during a visit to Turkey.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull some 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan, speeding up the timeline established in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban that envisions a full US withdrawal in mid-2021.

Trump has repeatedly vowed to end “forever wars”, including in Afghanistan, America’s longest-ever conflict that began with an invasion to dislodge the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

President-elect Joe Biden, in a rare point of agreement with Trump, also advocates winding down the Afghanistan war, although analysts believe he will not be as wedded to a rapid withdrawal.