ISLAMABAD - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned Tuesday that ongoing peace negotiations over the future of Afghanistan will be a "difficult" process but will help reduce the cost of war and risk to America.
Pompeo spoke in Washington as the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government continued their meetings in Doha, Qatar, for a fourth day to finalize an agenda for substantive peace negotiations to end decades of Afghan conflict.
The U.S.-brokered talks or intra-Afghan negotiations kicked off Saturday in the Qatari capital, where the two negotiating teams have been tasked to agree on a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing deal to govern Afghanistan after the withdrawal of all U.S. and allied troops.
"We are now delivering a set of outcomes that will reduce the costs in blood from our American servicemen and women, in treasure from the American taxpayer and risk to the USA," Pompeo told a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council.
"For the first time now in 20 years, Afghans sat down together to begin to pound out what a reconciled peaceful Afghanistan might look like. Under no illusion about who we are negotiating with, who these parties are, how difficult that process will be," Pompeo said.
The chief American diplomat noted that fewer than 200 al-Qaida militants remain in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials maintain that nearly 19 years of military action, which began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities, has degraded al-Qaida and other terrorists in the South Asian nation.
The intra-Afghan talks stemmed from a landmark February deal between the U.S. and the Taliban, also signed in Doha, where the insurgents run their political office.
The pact requires the Taliban to disallow al-Qaida-led terrorists to plot international attacks and begin direct peace talks with Afghan rivals to seek a negotiated end to the war.
In return, Washington has begun pulling out U.S. forces from Afghanistan, bringing their number down to about 8,600 from roughly 13,000 at the time of signing the deal.
All U.S. and allied troops are required to completely withdraw from the country by the end of April 2021.
In an interview published Sunday, Pompeo said the withdrawal process was on track, which will close what has become America's longest war.