Pompeo warns Taliban against attacking Americans
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned Afghanistan’s Taliban against attacks on Americans, the State Department said Tuesday, amid outrage over alleged Russian bounties to target US troops.
In a telephone call Monday with Taliban negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Pompeo “made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans,” a State Department statement said.
Pompeo was speaking about the implementation of a February 29 agreement between the Taliban and the United States, which has started withdrawing troops from Afghanistan as part of President Donald Trump’s bid to end America’s longest war.
Washington has been rattled by reports, initially in The New York Times, that Trump was briefed over US intelligence that a Russian spy unit had offered rewards to Taliban-linked militants to kill US troops.
Trump has insisted that he was not briefed but lawmakers of the rival Democratic Party and even some Republicans have demanded further explanations.
US officials say that the Taliban has abided by terms not to attack the US-led coalition.
But it has kept up violence against Afghan government forces, casting a cloud over attempts to start talks between the two sides on a peace settlement.
The Taliban earlier provided an account of the call, saying that the Qatar-based Baradar told Pompeo that the guerrillas “do not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against the US and other countries.”
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen quoted Pompeo as acknowledging that the Taliban had refrained from attacking urban centers and military bases under the deal, but calling on them to do more to reduce overall violence.
The Taliban spokesman said Baradar and Pompeo discussed concerns about the deal, including intra-Afghan talks and the release of 5,000 imprisoned insurgents.
“We are committed to starting intra-Afghan talks,” Baradar told Pompeo, blaming the hold-up on the delayed release of prisoners, according to Shaheen.
The Afghan government in Kabul has said it has freed nearly 4,000 Taliban prisoners so far in a bid to kickstart the negotiations.
Violence had dropped across much of the country after the Taliban offered a brief ceasefire to mark the Islamic Eid al-Fitr festival last month, but officials say the insurgents have stepped up attacks in recent weeks.
Most attacks by the Taliban have targeted Afghan security forces, although there are regular police reports that civilians have been killed in roadside bomb blasts.