Taliban senior leader speaks to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

The call discussed the start of the intra-Afghan talks and the current political progress after a three-day ceasefire

(FILES) In this file photo US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the State Department’s 2021 budget in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC on 30 July 2020.  State Department officials voiced concern over risks to civilians before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rammed through $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies, a former aide was quoted on August 3, 2020 as telling lawmakers. Democrats in Congress issued subpoenas to compel appearances by four aides to Pompeo as lawmakers probe why President Donald Trump fired the State Department's inspector general, its internal watchdog, in May on Pompeo's advice.
 / AFP / POOL / JIM LO SCALZO

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a video conference on Monday with the Taliban’s deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen announced the call and released a photo of the US Secretary of State speaking via video to Mullah Baradar.
The call discussed the start of the intra-Afghan talks and the current political progress after a three-day ceasefire during Eid Al Adha, and the release of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government.

This is the second call in four weeks between Mr Pompeo and the senior Taliban official. Contacted by The National, a US State Department was not immediately available for a comment on the call. The State Department has not issued a readout of the call yet.

The news comes days after US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad visited Doha, Islamabad, Kabul, Oslo, and Sofia. The negotiations are due to start this week.

In his visit, the US envoy pressed "for resolution of the remaining issues ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations, specifically final prisoner exchanges and reduced violence."
In Oslo and Sofia, Ambassador Khalilzad updated NATO members on the Afghan peace process. The US has been encouraged by the ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government and the release of 317 prisoners from the group last week.

The steps fall short in timing and numbers from what was announced in the US-Taliban agreement on February 29. But the Trump administration is still hoping for full implementation of the agreement and eventual withdrawal of its troops.
Last month, the Pentagon announced a drop in the number of troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 from about 12,000.

US defence officials are still wary of the Taliban and its commitment to abandoning violence.
A Pentagon report in July cast doubt on the group's commitment to ending violence and completely cutting ties with a branch of Al Qaeda in the region. "The Taliban and Haqqani Network very likely maintain the capability to conduct explosive and other offensive operations against Afghan and Coalition forces," it said.

In June, the New York Times reported that Russian operatives allegedly made payments to Taliban militants to target US troops. But US President Donald Trump did not confirm these reports.
Last week, Mr Trump told Axios that he didn't discuss the issue of the alleged bounties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and called it "fake news." "That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that's an issue that many people said was fake news," he said.

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