Long-delayed Afghan peace talks to begin from tomorrow
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Doha for the opening of the US-backed negotiations, as President Donald Trump seeks to honor his pledge to halt the country's "endless wars" overseas with just two months to go until he faces re-election.
The talks had originally been slated to start in March but were repeatedly pushed back amid disputes over a prisoner exchange that included the release of hundreds of battle-hardened Taliban fighters.
Trump announced Pompeo would depart Thursday "on a historic trip to Doha, Qatar, for the beginning of intra-Afghan peace negotiations."
The insurgents, the Afghan government and Qatari officials all confirmed on Thursday the talks would begin Saturday following an opening ceremony in Doha.
Pompeo, in a statement, called the talks a "historic" opportunity to end decades of war and bloodshed, adding "This opportunity must not be squandered".
Qatar's foreign ministry said the talks "are a serious and important step towards establishing sustainable peace in Afghanistan".
Afghanistan's former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, who now heads the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), was set to fly to Qatar on Friday.
"HCNR hopes that after a long wait, talks will lead to permanent peace & stability & an end to war," the council said on Twitter.
The talks come as Trump faces uncertain prospects in the November 3 election and he has pushed hard to pull back US forces from Afghanistan, where they rose to more than 12,000 under his watch to pressure the Taliban and Daesh.
The number fell to about 8,600 in July following a February accord between Washington and the Taliban, and is expected to be around 4,500 in October.