Speaking on a plane on his way to Qatar's capital of Doha for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the negotiations but said they would likely be 'contentious.'
"It's taken us longer than I wish that it had to get from February 29 to here but we expect Saturday morning, for the first time in almost two decades, to have the Afghans sitting at the table together prepared to have what will be contentious discussions about how to move their country forward."
The Trump administration has been attempting to usher the two warring sides towards negotiations, which would pave the way for the United States to finally withdraw from its longest war.
But the process has been hit by delays over disagreements about the release of prisoners.
If talks are successful, a peace agreement would hand President Donald Trump an important foreign policy success right before the U.S. presidential election.
Pompeo's arrival in Doha on Friday coincides with the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States that triggered U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan against the Taliban, who harbored Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda militant leader who plotted the attacks.
Pompeo: "I remember the righteous indignation that we all had and America has responded to that in a way that was wholly justified, enormously successful and appropriate and now is a moment to put Afghanistan on the next step on its trajectory. There’s jihadists in the world. There’s still counterterrorism work to do. President Trump is deeply mindful of that."
A diplomatic source in Kabul said that the start of talks on Saturday had been arranged to ensure it did not fall on the anniversary.