US cuts aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion after Pompeo fails to break impasse

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a $ 1 billion cut in aid to Afghanistana on Monday after failing to convince Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political enemy to end a feud that contributed to jeopardize a United States-led peace effort.

The United States is also ready to cut aid by 2021 by the same amount and is “reviewing all of our programs and projects to identify further reductions and to reconsider our commitments for future donor conferences for the year.” Afghanistan, “said Pompeo in a statement.

Pompeo’s statement came as he was returning home after an unsuccessful one-day effort in Kabul to end competing demands for the presidency of Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah and win their agreement to form “an inclusive government”.

The brutal announcement at the end of the mission he undertook despite the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic underscored the extent to which United States ‘efforts to end the United States’ longest war and decades of conflict in Afghanistan have become difficult.

The United States “deeply regrets” that Ghani and Abdullah “could not agree on an inclusive government,” said Pompeo, adding that “their failure has damaged American-Afghan relations and, unfortunately, dishonored Afghans, Americans and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and their treasures. “

“We are announcing today a responsible adjustment to our spending in Afghanistan and an immediate reduction in aid by a billion dollars this year. We are ready to reduce another billion dollars in 2021,” he said. -he declares. “We will also initiate a review of all of our programs and projects to identify further reductions.”

Pompeo meets the Taliban’s best negotiator

On the way back to Washington, Pompeo landed at a military base in Qatar for a 75-minute meeting with Taliban officials, including their chief negotiator, Mullah Baradar Akhund.

Speaking to reporters after leaving Qatar, Pompeo declined to say how the billion dollars in aid cuts would be distributed or whether he had set a deadline for Ghani and Abdullah, who had been the country’s chief executive, to settle their dispute.

But he said the aid cut could be canceled if they reached an agreement.

“We sincerely hope that they will succeed together and we will not have to do it. But we are ready to do it,” he said.

In the meantime, he said, the United States will continue to support the Afghan security forces while pursuing a gradual withdrawal of troops “on terms” as specified in an agreement signed with the Taliban in Doha on February 29.

He said that despite the ongoing fighting, the Taliban have largely lived up to their commitment to reduce violence and are working to form a team for the intra-Afghan peace talks.

The Pompeo mission arrived almost a month after its last visit to Doha for the signing of the February 29 agreement with the Taliban. Ghani’s government was not a party to the agreement.

The agreement was to be followed by the opening on March 10 of negotiations on a political settlement to decades of conflict between the insurgents and a delegation of Afghans which would include government officials.

Neutral process

But the process stalled on a Taliban demand for Kabul’s release of 5,000 prisoners and the feud between Ghani and Abdullah, who both claimed the presidency following a disputed election in September with allegations of fraud. .

In Kabul, Pompeo met Ghani and Abdullah, both separately and together.

The chief negotiator, US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, a veteran diplomat of Afghan origin, was absent from the meetings. It was not immediately clear why Khalilzad was not included.

A senior State Department official, speaking before the meetings ended, said that Pompeo’s visit was aimed at trying to find a solution between the two men.

“The fear is that unless this crisis is resolved … soon it could affect the peace process … our agreement with the Talibs could be jeopardized,” said the official.

A spokesman for Ghani declined to comment, saying details of the meetings have yet to be released.

Omid Maisam, a spokesman for Abdullah, said that if there were more meetings, a solution was “not impossible” and that they wanted a peaceful end to the crisis.

Skype call

Khalilzad, who has spent much of his time in Kabul since the signing of the agreement, last week called on the two sides to act quickly on the release of the prisoners.

On Sunday, the Taliban and the Afghan government spoke for more than two hours of prisoner releases during a Skype call facilitated by the United States and Qatar, offering some hope of progress. But domestic policy has been a complicating factor.

In February, the Afghan Election Commission announced that outgoing President Ghani was the winner of the presidential election, but Abdullah said he and his allies had won and insisted that he form a government.

For the past few weeks, the two major points of friction between the two men have been Abdullah’s desire to keep the post of director general, which he occupied in the previous government, and that his camp be assigned more roles. ministerial than Ghani, according to the diplomat and an aide to Abdullah.