WASHINGTON, D.C. – Less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump said he had a “very good talk” with a Taliban leader and insisted the militants want to end the violence, a U.S. military drone targeted the group in retaliation for an uptick in attacks against Afghan forces.
It made clear the fragility of the U.S.-Taliban deal signed last weekend aimed at ending America’s longest war. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who witnessed the signing of that agreement in Qatar, said Thursday that the violence was not acceptable.
“We know that the road ahead will be difficult," Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “We expected it. We were right. The upsurge in violence in parts of Afghanistan over the last couple days is unacceptable. In no uncertain terms violence must be reduced immediately for the peace process to move forward."
U.S. officials said Wednesday's airstrike was intended as a message to the Taliban to continue to enforce a reduction in violence commitment they had agreed before their peace talks with the Afghan government that are supposed to begin next week.
Officials noted that the deal did not include a full cease-fire but left negotiations on a nationwide truce to the follow-up talks. It did not say that the truce or completion of a peace accord were required conditions for the withdrawal of American troops.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told senators on Wednesday that the Taliban were honoring the agreement by not attacking U.S. and coalition forces, “but not in terms of sustaining the reduction in violence.” He added: "Keeping that group of people on board is a challenge. They've got their range of hard-liners and soft-liners and so they’re wrestling with that too, I think.”
Esper said the document allowed the U.S. to act in defense of the Afghan forces. The peace deal says the U.S. must begin withdrawing more than 4,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the next week or so.
Still, a surge in Taliban attacks since the peace deal was signed, coupled with the refusal thus far of the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban prisoners, may have imperiled the planned Tuesday start of the Afghanistan negotiations. Pompeo called on all sides to get the process moving.