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Pompeo says US will take 'all necessary measures' to bar war crimes probe of military

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 3/6/2020 Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday the Trump administration would take "all necessary measures" to shield U.S. military and other personnel from a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court. 

The international court, based in the Hague, Netherlands, ruled Thursday that its prosecutors could move forward with an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Taliban, Afghan forces and American military and CIA personnel.

"This is a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body," Pompeo said at the State Department.

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"It is all the more reckless for this ruling to come just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan, which is the best chance for peace in a generation," he said.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators signed an agreement Saturday that could end America's longest war, although renewed violence in Afghanistan threatens to undermine it.

The United States launched an airstrike against Taliban forces Wednesday after the militant Islamic group conducted 43 attacks on Afghan troops. 

Pompeo acknowledged the peace deal hit a potential snag. Under the agreement signed Saturday, the United States committed to a timetable for the full withdrawal of 13,000 American troops in Afghanistan; in exchange, the Taliban agreed to sever its ties with al-Qaida, the terrorist group that launched the 9/11 attacks against the USA.

"We still have confidence that the Taliban leadership is working to deliver on its commitments. We're working to deliver on ours," Pompeo said Thursday. 

"We're not naive, everything's got to be verified," he said. "There will be days when we ... have to really drive this process forward, but we're determined to do that." 

He said the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is in Kabul, working with the Taliban and the Afghan government to set up intra-Afghan negotiations, which U.S. officials hope will lead to a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing agreement between those two factions.

Before those talks begin, the United States is pushing the Afghan government to release up to 5,000 Taliban fighters, in exchange for as many as 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the Taliban. The Afghan government objected to the prisoner release, and Republican lawmakers in Washington criticized that proposal, saying the Taliban fighters are terrorists who should not be freed. 

Mike Pompeo et al. standing next to a man wearing a suit and tie: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to the signing of a US-Taliban agreement in the Qatari capital Doha on February 29, 2020. - Washington and the Taliban are set to sign a landmark deal in Doha that would see them agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP) (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_1PG2OZ © KARIM JAAFAR, AFP via Getty Images US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to the signing of a US-Taliban agreement in the Qatari capital Doha on February 29, 2020. - Washington and the Taliban are set to sign a landmark deal in Doha that would see them agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP) (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_1PG2OZ

"It's time for prisoners exchanges to take place," Pompeo said. He called on the Taliban and the Afghan government to "stop posturing" and start negotiating. 

Pompeo did not specify what steps the State Department would take to shield Americans from the International Criminal Court's investigation. He and other members of the Trump administration have long argued that the body threatens U.S. sovereignty and has no jurisdiction over American citizens.

"We will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, unlawful so-called court," Pompeo said.

Thursday's decision from the international court marks the first time its prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has been authorized to investigate U.S. forces. After a preliminary probe in Afghanistan that lasted more than a decade, Bensouda asked judges in November 2017 to authorize a far-reaching investigation.

She said there is information that members of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”

The State Department has barred some ICC officials from entering the USA, a move aimed at protecting U.S. military and intelligence personnel from the court's reach.

In announcing that decision last year, Pompeo said the State Department issued visa restrictions on ICC officials who were involved in investigations of U.S. personnel. 

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pompeo says US will take 'all necessary measures' to bar war crimes probe of military

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