US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday, according to a pool report, in the midst of an ongoing political crisis, a raging Taliban insurgency and an increase in cases of coronavirus.
Pompeo was scheduled to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who also claims the presidency, following a disputed election last year.
The visit comes just a day after the Afghan government and the Taliban held their first discussion on organizing prisoner swaps – a key step in broader pressure for peace following a signed withdrawal agreement between Washington and activists last month.
The agreement established a framework to end the longest U.S. war after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the main negotiator for talks with the Taliban, tweeted Sunday that it was “urgent” to quickly conclude plans for the exchange of prisoners – as demanded by the American pact with the Taliban – with the coronavirus pandemic complicating diplomatic contacts.
The agreement called for the release of 5,000 Taliban combatants detained by Kabul and 1,000 members of the Afghan government forces from the insurgents.
This was to take place before the start of peace talks between the government – which was not a party to the negotiations that led to the Doha agreement – and the Taliban, originally scheduled for March 10.