Surge in Afghanistan violence ‘unacceptable’ says Pompeo

At least 20 Afghan forces were killed in Taliban attacks in two separate attacks this week

epa08272354 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responds to a question from the news media during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, USA, 05 March 2020. Secretary Pompeo responded to questions on the coronavirus outbreak, China, Afghanistan and the International Criminal Court.  EPA/SHAWN THEW
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the upsurge in violence in Afghanistan in recent days is unacceptable and said it must cease immediately for the peace process to move forward.

Speaking at a news conference at the State Department, Mr Pompeo stressed all sides should stop posturing and prepare for negotiations, including practical discussions about prisoner releases following the signing of a deal betwen the US and the Taliban last week.

"We know that the road ahead will be difficult. We expected it, we were right. The upsurge in violence in parts of Afghanistan over the last couple of days is unacceptable. In no uncertain terms violence must be reduced immediately for the peace process to move forward," Mr Pompeo said.

Mr Pompeo made his comments on the violence a day after the US conducted a strike against Taliban forces, who were "actively attacking" an Afghan military post in Helmand Province.

The first US strike on the Taliban in 11 days was prompted by 43 separate attacked against Afghan forces on March 3 alone.

At least 20 Afghan forces were killed in Taliban attacks in two separate attacks in northern Kunduz province in the past 24 hours, said Fawzia Yaftali, a member of the Kunduz provincial council.

The intra-Afghan negotiations are due to begin March 10 according to a US-Taliban deal signed in Doha on Saturday, but a dispute over a prisoner swap has raised questions about whether they will go ahead.

The agreement includes a commitment for the Taliban to release up to 1,000 prisoners and for the Afghan government to free around 5,000 insurgent captives - something the militants have cited as a prerequisite for talks but which President Ashraf Ghani has refused to do before negotiations start.

The surge in violence could put the peace process in danger, but experts said it was unsurprising as both sides seek to exploit whatever leverage they hold to force the other's hand.

"Of course violence will go up, was bound to happen. No surprise Ghani balking on prisoner release: 1 of his few levers," Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tweeted.