KABUL, Afghanistan — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday visited the Gulf nation of Qatar, where he met with Afghan and Taliban negotiators who are trying to break a deadlock in their stalled peace negotiations. He landed hours after a deadly rocket attack in Kabul, the latest evidence of the violence spiraling across Afghanistan.
The rocket barrage slammed into the heart of Kabul, killing at least eight people and wounding more than two dozen. The attack early on Saturday set off warning sirens that blared across the diplomatic quarters of the Afghan capital, and residents on their morning commute took cover.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic State announcements. The group is seen by many experts as one of the primary spoilers for any future peace in Afghanistan.
Qatar is the latest stop on Mr. Pompeo’s whirlwind lap of diplomacy in the waning hours of the Trump administration, looking to push forward White House foreign policy objectives before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office in January. The Pentagon said this week that it would reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by nearly half — to 2,500, down from 4,500 by mid-January.
The troop withdrawal has sown uncertainty among Afghan officials, who are hoping for a policy change under Mr. Biden. Afghan security forces, still reliant on U.S. airstrikes, have struggled to defend territory from recent Taliban offensives.
In Doha, which has been hosting the peace talks, representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban have been wrestling over two main sticking points for months, and negotiators from both sides have said in recent days that they are close to a breakthrough.
The Afghan government and the Taliban have been stuck on which school of Islamic thought to use for resolving disputes during the negotiations, and if the Feb. 29 U.S.-Taliban deal would be referenced during them.