US ambassador ends term in Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) walks from a helicopter with his ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass, in Kabul on June 25, 2019 -- about six months before Bass finished his term in the country (AFP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Washington's ambassador to Afghanistan ended his term and left the country on Monday as scheduled, a State Department spokesperson told AFP, even as US-Taliban peace talks remained on hold.

John Bass, a veteran diplomat, had served in Kabul since December 2017.

"Ambassador Bass's departure is long-planned and part of the normal rotation cycle. US ambassadors typically serve in Kabul for two years," the spokesperson said.

His departure comes after the US announced in early December that talks with Taliban Islamist extremists would pause following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan.

Negotiations between the US and the insurgent group had restarted just days before in Qatar, with the goal of finding a path to reduce violence or even reach a ceasefire that would allow a gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan after 18 years.

The talks started earlier in 2019, though Trump unexpectedly suspended them in September just as the parties were about to reach an agreement. He cited a fatal attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier.

Bass "skillfully advanced the Trump Administration's goal of reaching a political settlement in Afghanistan," the State Department spokesperson said.

Former foreign service officer Ross Wilson will serve as charge d'affaires ad interim until a new ambassador is confirmed. Wilson has more than 30 years of experience under both Democrat and Republican administrations, the spokesperson said.