Pompeo to meet Taliban negotiators in Qatar

Pompeo to meet Taliban negotiators in Qatar
UAE's Protocol Chief Shihab Al-Faheem greets with an elbow-bump US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C-R) alongside his wife Susan (R) in the presence of US Ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta (L) and his wife Terry, at al-Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 20, 2020. (AFP / POOL / Patrick Semansky)
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Updated 21 November 2020

Pompeo to meet Taliban negotiators in Qatar

Pompeo to meet Taliban negotiators in Qatar
  • The Taliban for the first time are speaking to Afghanistan’s government
  • The US earlier said it would soon pull some 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan

ABU DHABI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will Saturday meet negotiators from the Taliban and Afghan government amid signs of progress in their talks as the United States speeds up its withdrawal.
The State Department said late Friday that Pompeo will meet separately with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiation teams in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Pompeo will also see Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and the foreign minister on his stop in the capital Doha, the Taliban’s base for diplomacy, the State Department said on its public schedule.
The outgoing top US diplomat is on a seven-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East as President Donald Trump shores up late-term priorities.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull some 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan, speeding up the timeline established in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban that envisions a full US withdrawal in mid-2021.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to end “forever wars,” including in Afghanistan, America’s longest-ever conflict that began with an invasion to dislodge the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
President-elect Joe Biden, in a rare point of agreement, also advocates winding down the Afghanistan war although analysts believe he will not be as wedded to a quick timetable.
The Taliban for the first time are speaking to Afghanistan’s government.
The talks started September 12 in Doha but almost immediately faltered over disagreements about the agenda, the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.
Several sources told AFP on Friday that the two sides appear to have resolved some of the issues, however.
Among the sticking points so far, the Taliban and the Afghan government have struggled to agree on common language on two main issues.
The Taliban are insisting on adherence to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, but government negotiators say this could be used to discriminate against Hazaras, who are predominantly Shiite, and other minorities.
Another contentious topic is how the US-Taliban deal will shape a future Afghan peace deal and how it will be referred to.
The Doha peace talks opened after the Taliban and Washington signed a deal in February, with the US agreeing to withdraw all foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban promise to start talks.
Despite the talks, violence has surged across Afghanistan, with the Taliban stepping up daily attacks against Afghan security forces.
Trump’s plan to slash troops by January 15 — less than a week before his successor Joe Biden is to be sworn in to office — has been criticized by Kabul residents who fear it will embolden the Taliban to unleash a new wave of fighting.
Afghan civilians have long borne the brunt of the bloodshed.
Officials in Kabul also worry it will harden the Taliban position at the negotiating table, where the future of hard-won gains including women’s rights are on the line.


Eight people killed in shelling in Yemen’s Hodeidah

Updated 21 min 22 sec ago

Eight people killed in shelling in Yemen’s Hodeidah

Eight people killed in shelling in Yemen’s Hodeidah

DUBAI: At least eight people were killed in the shelling of an industrial compound in Yemen’s strategic port of Hodeidah, the government said Friday, pointing the finger at the Iran-backed Houthis.

There has been an uptick in fighting in and around the lifeline port of the western city, where a fragile UN-brokered truce has largely averted major battles between the government-backed by a Saudi-led military coalition - and the Houthi insurgents.
Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani condemned the Houthis’ “ugly terrorist attack” on the Thabit Brothers industrial compound on Thursday, according to the official Saba news agency.
He said that eight workers were killed and 13 others were injured, while medical sources told AFP there were at least 10 deaths.
The United Nations Mission to support the Hodeida Agreement (UNMHA) also condemned the incident.
“The killing of civilians must stop,” it said Thursday, urging all parties to maintain the ceasefire.
“In addition to being a working factory servicing the population and providing employment, the site of the industrial complex is being considered as one of the possible locations of an UNMHA office,” it said.
The United Nations said that a total of 74 civilians were killed or wounded in Hodeida province in October as hostilities escalated.
And in late November, five children were among eight civilians killed in rebel shelling of the government-held district of Al-Durayhimi on the Red Sea coast.
Yemen, which since 2014 has been gripped by a war between Iran-backed Houthis and a beleaguered government supported by the Saudi-led military coalition, faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have killed and millions displaced and on the brink of famine.
The UN said Thursday that malnutrition has now hit record levels, narrowing the window of opportunity to prevent a famine as the coronavirus and funding shortfalls threaten a humanitarian perfect storm.
The number of people facing the second-highest level of food insecurity in Yemen is set to increase from 3.6 million people to 5 million in the first half of 2021, the United Nations World Food Programme warned.