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Mike Pompeo Pushes for Peace Talks With the Taliban During a Surprise Stop in Afghanistan

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On a surprise visit to Afghanistan Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed for peace talks with the Taliban, indicating that the Trump administration would be willing to take part in discussions led by the Afghan government.

Pompeo’s stop in the capital Kabul, his first since becoming Secretary of State, comes toward the end of a week-long trip that began in North Korea and Vietnam, and is slated to conclude in Brussels with NATO discussions from July 10-12.

Meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Pompeo dubbed the Trump administration’s approach to the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan a success.

“I came here today to learn the progress that we’d made,” he said in a press conference following his meeting. “My conclusion from this visit is that the President’s strategy is indeed working. Our South Asia strategy has sent a clear message to the Afghan peoples and its security services that we will support them as they continue to fight to defend their country and their people.”

Last year, President Donald Trump reversed a campaign pledge and announced plans to boost troops in Afghanistan, which have been present since the 2001 invasion following the 9/11 attacks.

According to a BBC survey in January, the insurgents are openly active in 70% of the country. Attacks have reportedly increased in recent months with near-daily offensives launched against security forces.

Yet at Monday’s news conference, President Ghani, who postponed parliamentary elections until later this year, expressed optimism about the potential for peace, and called Trump’s strategy a “game-changer.”

According to Pompeo,”The strategy has sent a clear message.”

“They cannot wait us out,” he said, “We are beginning to see the results both on the battlefield where the Taliban’s momentum is slowing and in the prospects for peace with them.”

Pompeo told journalists, “The United States will support, facilitate, and participate” in peace talks, but noted that the process would be “Afghan-led.”

The Taliban has repeatedly rejected Ghani’s calls to negotiate, however.

Last month, Kabul extended a unilateral ceasefire to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, hoping that the truce might encourage the insurgents to join a dialogue. But the ceasefire was followed by resumed attacks after three days.

Pompeo will head next to the United Arab Emirates, where he is scheduled to meet Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

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Write to Laignee Barron at Laignee.Barron@time.com