US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged prominent Afghans holding a major meeting Friday to free Taliban prisoners, promising help if the war-torn nation moves forward on peace efforts.
“We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan’s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war.”
In a statement unthinkable after the September 11, 2001 attacks triggered the US invasion, the top US diplomat told Afghan leaders that the Taliban were committed to reducing violence after talks start.
“The United States intends to hold the Taliban to these commitments,” Pompeo said.
The Taliban are demanding the release of 400 prisoners — many accused of serious offenses, with more than 150 on death row — as a condition to start peace talks with the internationally recognized government in Kabul.
President Ashraf Ghani deferred the decision on whether to release these inmates to a loya jirga — a traditional Afghan meeting of tribal elders and other stakeholders.
President Donald Trump’s administration is eager to wind down America’s longest war and showcase a foreign policy success ahead of November elections.
The United States on February 29 signed a deal with the Taliban under which all US troops would leave by mid-2021.
Pompeo vowed that the United States would maintain support for Afghanistan.
“We are ready to support a peace settlement, including by extending US development programs to previously underserved areas,” Pompeo said.