U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 23. File Photo by Sediq Sediqqi/Afghan government
Sept. 11 (UPI) -- The Afghan government and the Taliban will begin long-anticipated peace talks in Qatar on Saturday after meeting the final precondition for a process that aims to entirely withdraw U.S. forces.
Six Taliban prisoners -- who'd been held for killing French, Australia and U.S. citizens -- were transferred to Qatar and placed under house arrest. The move completed the final requirement for the peace talks to start.
The releases were part of a peace deal negotiated by U.S. diplomats and the militant group that did not involve the Afghan government, which had been a point of contention.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Qatar for the intra-Afghan talks. He said the United States will cut U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 4,000 in a "very short period of time."
The overall peace deal aims to completely withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, where they have been on a constant basis since late 2001.
U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has led the peace effort, hailed the new talks.
"This is a historic opportunity to end a forty-year war that has no military solution and kills too many Afghans," Khalilzad tweeted. "The road to get here has been long and will remain difficult.
"No important achievement is ever easy. It is now the responsibility of Afghan leaders to capitalize on this moment and end this brutal and mindless war."
Some experts worry about what will happen to the role of women in Afghanistan during negotiations. When the Taliban ruled, women were barred from education, most forms of work and leaving the house without a male guardian.
Women in Afghanistan in recent years, however, have become political leaders, educators, students and business owners. The fear is that progress might disappear once the Taliban regains political representation in government. The group has previously tried to answer those concerns, saying Afghan women will have rights "under Islam."
Pakistani envoy Mohammad Sadiq said Islamabad welcomes the new talks.
"We hope these negotiations would lead to sustainable peace in Afghanistan, which would bring prosperity to the country," he said. "Our strong support to the process would continue."