Peace in Afghanistan? Pompeo Talks 'Progress' And 'Hope' During Surprise Visit

There is "now hope" for peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday during a surprise visit to the Asian country.

The unannounced trip marks Pompeo's first to the country since he took over the top U.S. diplomat position in April. Last month, the Taliban and the Afghan government announced an unprecedented ceasefire, leading to optimism that a lasting peace agreement could be implemented.

"An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope," Pompeo said during a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). The secretary continued, explaining that many of the Taliban no longer believe they can "win on the ground militarily." However, the U.S. top diplomat also pointed out, "There's still a great deal of work to do."

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (from right) shake hands during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 9. The unannounced trip marks Pompeo’s first to the country since he took over the top U.S. diplomat position in April. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

After 17 years of conflict that began with the U.S.-led invasion to remove the Taliban from power, both rebel and government forces have expressed their readiness for a lasting end to the fighting. At the end of Ramadan in June, a ceasefire was implemented that saw both sides celebrating in the streets.

Earlier this year, Ghani offered to enter peace negotiations with the rebel group without setting preconditions. This month, the State Department's top diplomat for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, visited the country and said that the Taliban was under significant pressure to make peace, according to Channel News Asia. For its part, the Taliban has so far rebuffed discussions with Ghani and instead moved for direct talks with the U.S.

Pompeo credited President Donald Trump's hard-line stance as pushing the U.S.-designated "terrorist group" to consider dialogue as opposed to continued fighting. Trump's strategy "sends a message to the Taliban that they cannot wait us out," Pompeo said, according to AFP.

The optimistic comments come on the heels of a Taliban-claimed attack that left one U.S. soldier dead and two others injured, NATO announced on Saturday. The rebel group hailed the attack as the actions of an Afghan "patriot."

Today I received US Secretary of State @SecPompeo in Kabul. We discussed President Trump's South Asia strategy in details and agreed that the strategy is indeed working. We also discussed the Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process and the successful ceasefire.

— Ashraf Ghani (@ashrafghani) July 9, 2018

"A patriot Afghan soldier opened fire on Americans in Uruzgan airport killing and wounding...American invaders," the Taliban said, Al Jazeera reported. According to reports, the attack was carried out by an Afghan soldier who fired upon international troops he was working with.

Despite the Taliban's rejection of international presence in Afghan soil, Pompeo said that the U.S. has "seen good signs from lots of regional partners," Channel News Asia reported. He explained that Kabul will lead the peace process, as the U.S. and neighboring countries provide support.

About 14,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan. The U.S. forces provide the main component of the NATO mission to the country, which works to train and support the local security and military forces.