Pompeo makes surprise stop in Afghanistan, says Trump’s policy there is working

WASHINGTON — His nuclear diplomacy with North Korea finished for the moment, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a previously unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday and offered support for the Kabul government’s peace talks with Taliban insurgents.

Pompeo told reporters that the United States was willing to sit down with the Taliban to negotiate but that talks would have to be Afghan-led.

He said President Donald Trump’s open-ended deployment of nearly 15,000 American troops was helping to pacify the country 16 years after the United States invaded, and that the administration’s aggressive strategy is setting “the conditions to produce a safer, more secure Afghanistan.”

But Pompeo’s quick, heavily guarded visit reflected the country’s continuing instability and deteriorating security as it gears up for parliamentary elections this summer.

Pompeo landed at Bagram Airfield, flew in a smaller plane to a State Department hangar at a smaller airport in Kabul, flew again in a military helicopter to the fortified U.S. Embassy, and then drove a few hundred yards to the presidential palace in an armored vehicle.

Although the Taliban has been unable to regain the country it once controlled, it has proved resilient and resurgent, launching a series of high-profile attacks. The militants now control roughly half of Afghanistan. Civilian casualties, despite a recent temporary ceasefire, continue at record levels. Elections are scheduled for the fall, and Afghans are fearful of widespread violence as in the past.

While U.S. and allied troops are mostly in garrison-like compounds, Pompeo said U.S. resolve has proven to the Taliban that it cannot win militarily.

“The strategy has sent a clear message to the Taliban: They cannot wait us out,” he said, “And we are beginning to see the results both on the battlefield where the Taliban’s momentum is slowing and in the prospects for peace with them.”

Before leaving for Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates, Pompeo met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul.

— Los Angeles Times

Confederate flag coming back to the South Carolina State House on Tuesday

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Confederate flag is coming back to the S.C. State House, at least for one day.

On Tuesday, members of the S.C. Secessionist Party will raise the rebel banner on a temporary pole in front of the Gervais Street steps.

The 10 a.m. ceremony will mark the three-year anniversary of the flag’s permanent removal from the State House grounds.

This is the third time the party has raised the flag in front of the State House. Each July 10 since the flag was removed, the party has been permitted to put the flag back up in the same spot near the Confederate soldiers’ monument where the flag was displayed from 2000 to 2015.

The last two anniversaries drew around 100 supporters of the flag, who believe the flag was unfairly targeted after nine worshipers were killed in an historically black church in Charleston by a self-declared white supremacist. Those events also drew protesters who were separated from flag supporters by law enforcement.

This year, the group Showing Up for Racial Justice is planning its own “flag removal celebration” for the same time as the flag raising.

The event is organized by the Secessionist Party, a small group that advocates for South Carolina to once again leave the union.

— The State (Columbia, S.C.)

Theresa May’s government appears in turmoil amid resignations tied to Brexit

LONDON — The battle over Brexit — Britain’s planned exit from the European Union — has become very messy indeed.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government was plunged into disarray Monday with the resignation of her flamboyant foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who quit in protest of May’s plans for a so-called soft Brexit, which would maintain close trade ties with Europe.

Such a scenario, Johnson wrote in his resignation letter, could result in Britain being relegated to “the status of a colony” of the European Union.

The rebellion within her own Conservative Party illustrated May’s dire political weakness less than nine months before the split is to take effect in March.

Johnson’s departure came less than 24 hours after that of another key Cabinet member, David Davis, who was tasked with overseeing Brexit.

May says it is crucial to avoid a “hard” Brexit — a departure from the EU without a deal in place. Such a scenario could wreak havoc on Britain’s financial sector and the wider economy.

“This is the Brexit that is in our national interest,” she told a raucous session of Parliament shortly after Johnson’s departure was announced by Downing Street.

Johnson, the floppy-haired former mayor of London, helped spearhead the campaign that led to Britain’s narrow vote in June 2016 to break with the EU — a shock that has been likened to President Donald Trump’s unexpected victory on the other side of the Atlantic, five months later.

May tried to face down parliamentary hecklers who said she was betraying the voting public. They jeered loudly when she spoke approvingly of the “spirited national debate” taking place.

She moved quickly to replace both the departing ministers. Moving into Johnson’s spot is Jeremy Hunt, formerly the health secretary. Davis was supplanted by Dominic Raab, an ex-housing minister who was a leading Brexit proponent.

Under the prime minister’s plan, to which her Cabinet had agreed last week, Britain would keep close trade ties to the EU and remain subject to some of its regulatory mechanisms. That prospect set off a wave of anger from those who considered Brexit a ringing declaration of independence from the bureaucracy in Brussels.

— Los Angeles Times