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Trump called off peace talk with Taliban

09 September, 2019

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WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said he had called off a secret summit with the Taliban and Afghanistan’s leader, abruptly slamming the door on a year of diplomacy to end America’s longest war.

In a Saturday evening bombshell, Trump said that he had planned previously unknown talks with the two sides on Sunday in Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, but that the Taliban’s persistent, grisly campaign of violence made them untrustworthy partners.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump said in a tweet.

“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump said.

A US soldier and another service member from Romania were killed in the car bombing on Thursday in Kabul – the latest major attack claimed by the Taliban even as they negotiated with a US envoy on the withdrawal of thousands of troops.

Trump would have met the Taliban at Camp David – scene of secret 1978 talks as Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Israel and Egypt – days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which triggered the US invasion that toppled the Taliban’s regime.

In a responding statement, the Afghan Taliban said the US “will be harmed more than anyone” but left the door open for future negotiations.

“We still […] believe that the American side will come back to this position […] Our fight for the past 18 years should have proven to the Americans that we will not be satisfied until we witness the complete end of the occupation,” the group said in a statement released on Twitter by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

The Afghan Taliban also dismissed Trump’s reasoning in their statement, saying it showed “neither experience nor patience”, and accused the US of killing “hundreds of Afghans” in the fighting.

The statement said the US’ “credibility will be harmed, their anti-peace stance will become more visible to the world, their casualties and financial losses will increase, and the US role in international political interaction will be discredited even further”.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that talks on bringing peace to Afghanistan were on hold and the United States would keep pressuring the Taliban for significant commitments while providing military support to Afghan troops.

When asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether Afghan talks were dead, Pompeo said, “For the time being they are.”

Asked about the Camp David meeting scheduled for Sunday, Pompeo said Trump decided to get personally involved to get the agreement to the finish line.

“President Trump ultimately made the decision,” Pompeo told Fox. “He said, ‘I want to talk to (President) Ashraf Ghani. I want to talk to these Taliban negotiators. I want to look them in the eye. I want to see if we can get to the final outcome we needed.'”

“Never should leaders of a terrorist organisation that hasn’t renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country. NEVER. Full stop,” US Representative Adam Kinzinger, like Trump a Republican, said on Twitter on Saturday.

Pompeo said the United States would not let up on military support for Afghan troops until the Taliban take the necessary steps to show they are serious about peace. He said more than 1,000 Taliban fighters had been killed in Afghanistan in the last 10 days alone.

“If the Taliban don’t behave, if they don’t deliver on the commitments that they’ve made to us now for weeks, and in some cases months, the president is not going to reduce the pressure, we’re not going to reduce our support for the Afghan security forces that have fought so hard there in Afghanistan,” Pompeo said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re not just going to withdraw because there’s a timeline,” he said.

Earlier, a statement from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office on Sunday in response to Trump’s announcement said, “The Afghan government, in relation to the peace, appreciates the sincere efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other allies to bring a lasting peace.”

“We have always insisted that a real peace can only be achieved if the Taliban stop killing Afghans and accept a ceasefire, and face-to-face talks with the Afghan government,” the statement added.

Washington was jolted by the announcement from Trump, who is fond of dramatic gestures but whose Twitter pronouncements have often come into question later.

“The idea that Trump was planning to host Taliban leaders at Camp David is a rather big surprise,” said Laurel Miller, who served as the US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan until early in the Trump administration.

“Why a lethal attack in Kabul on Thursday would be the reason for calling it off, considering the multiple recent Taliban attacks, is unclear,” Miller, now the Asia director of the International Crisis Group, told AFP.

Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who has been pressing for clarity on the US strategy in Afghanistan, called the idea of Taliban leaders at Camp David “weird”. “And everyone knew they’ve been continuously committing terrorist attacks. But I’m glad the president called off this farce, and hope this good decision sticks,” Malinowski tweeted.

The announcement by tweet appears abruptly to end, at least for now, a painstaking diplomatic process led for nearly a year by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born veteran US diplomat who held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban, usually in Qatar.

Afghanistan’s internationally recognised president had been outspoken in his criticism of the emerging shape of the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, who have refused to negotiate with his government.

Selling the plan in Kabul, Khalilzad said that he had reached an agreement “in principle” with the Taliban.

According to parts of the draft deal that had been made public, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops from five bases across Afghanistan by early next year.

The insurgents in turn would renounce al Qaeda, promise to fight the militant Islamic State group and stop militants using Afghanistan as a safe haven – the primary reason for the 2001 invasion.

US public opinion has soured on nearly two decades of war and Trump, after initially being persuaded to reinforce US troops, has said that the United States should not pursue “endless” war.

Trump’s announcement draws a fresh question mark on whether the United States will leave Afghanistan anytime soon.

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