The United States' top general met earlier this week with Taliban officials in Qatar before heading to Afghanistan for senior meetings in an effort to kick-start stalled Afghan peace talks and reduce violence as efforts continue to end a nearly 20-year-long conflict, AP reported on December 17.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley reportedly met for around two hours on December 15 with representatives of the Taliban militant fundamentalist group that controls large swaths of Afghanistan and continues to wage war against Afghanistan's central government and international forces still in the country.
Milley then traveled to Kabul on December 16 to discuss the peace process with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose government is supported by the international community but faces daily violence and deep divisions within Afghan society.
The visits went unannounced until December 17.
“The most important part of the discussions that I had with both the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan was the need for an immediate reduction in violence,” AP quoted Milley as telling reporters accompanying him to Qatar and Afghanistan. "Everything else hinges on that.”
Peace talks between the Taliban and the central government ground to a halt and were suspended earlier this month, three months after they began and 10 months after a deal between U.S. and Taliban negotiators cleared the way for a prison swap and the direct intra-Afghan talks.
U.S. President Donald Trump in November ordered a withdrawal of nearly half of the 4,500 or so U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Under the U.S.-Taliban deal, all 11,000 or so foreign troops are to leave by May in exchange for security guarantees by the Taliban.
The Taliban has continued its attacks on Afghan and international targets inside Afghanistan, and demands an end to U.S. air strikes that for the past 10 months were supposed to be limited to support for Afghan forces.
Ross Wilson, the United States' most senior diplomat in Kabul, warned of a growing risk from Taliban violence.
The threat has created “an unbearable burden” for the Afghan armed forces and Afghan society, AP quoted him as saying.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes over in just over a month, has not committed to continuing the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or continuing to push the negotiations in Doha.