U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says violence in Afghanistan is "unacceptably high" as delayed peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban get under way.
Pompeo said that Washington has asked the warring parties “to stand back and indeed stand down,” adding that he hoped that the two sides can begin to address some of the “front end” issues, including a nationwide cease-fire.
Pompeo's comments, made in a virtual address to an annual security conference on December 4, came two days after Afghan government and Taliban negotiators reached a deal in Doha to proceed with talks aimed at ending 19 years of war.
The deal was considered a breakthrough because it advances talks beyond basic procedural questions to more substantive issues, including reaching an elusive cease-fire.
Pompeo said that he met with the negotiating teams during a visit to Doha on November 21.
"I made clear to them that the violence levels can't continue while these negotiations go on and it won't work," Pompeo said.
Earlier this week, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said that he was heading back to the region to gather international support for the peace talks.
The negotiations were to have begun on March 10, but they were delayed by disputes mainly over prisoner releases and the rules and procedure for the talks amid continuing violence.
The U.S.-backed government has held power in Afghanistan since 2001, though the Taliban controls large swaths of the country and the government in Kabul is considered weak.
Under a U.S.-Taliban deal signed in Doha in February, all foreign forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for security guarantees from the militant group. NATO has roughly 11,000 troops in Afghanistan from several countries.
In November, the Trump administration announced that 2,000 American troops will exit Afghanistan by mid-January, leaving just 2,500 behind.
How the peace process develops, and the pace of any further U.S. withdrawal, is expected to be determined after the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden takes power in January.