Milley also traveled to Kabul to meet with Afghanistan’s president to discuss the security situation that could impact any progress in the Afghan peace talks taking place in Qatar that have dragged on for months.
“In coordination with the Department of State and the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation (SRAR), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley and SRAR negotiators met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar as part of the military channel established in the U.S.-Taliban agreement,” said Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty, a spokesperson for Milley in a statement.
“The Chairman discussed the need for an immediate reduction of violence and accelerate progress towards a negotiated political solution which contributes to regional stability and safeguards U.S. national interests,” she added.
While the Taliban has maintained its commitment not to attacked American forces in Afghanistan under the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement from earlier this year, it has significantly ramped up attacks on Afghan security forces in an effort to gain leverage in the peace talks.
“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,” Milley told an Associated Press reporter accompanying him on the trip to Qatar and Afghanistan. "Everything else hinges on that.”
The Associated Press reported that Milley’s meeting on Tuesday was actually his second unannounced meeting with Taliban negotiators as he had also met with them in early June, a meeting only being made public now.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the Taliban negotiators in November in an effort to spur the stalled talks. Earlier this month slight progress was made in the talks as Afghan and Taliban negotiators agreed on rules and procedures for the talks.
But the symbolism of America’s top general meeting with the Taliban is noteworthy, given that Milley has served three tours leading troops in Afghanistan.
After his meeting in Doha, Milley traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan where he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
“The senior leaders discussed the current security environment in Afghanistan,” said Flaherty in a separate statement. “The United States remains fully committed to helping Afghans create a secure and stable Afghanistan by supporting inclusive efforts to achieve peace.”
The U.S. military is on track to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January as ordered by President Donald Trump. That troop reduction will still enable U.S. troops to maintain their advise and assist mission with Afghan forces and to carry out counterterrorism missions.
Given the increased violence levels in Afghanistan, it remains uncertain if the incoming Biden administration will agree to a full pullout of U.S. forces by May as outlined in the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement.