WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. peace talks with the Taliban are now “dead,” President Donald Trump declared Monday, one day after he canceled a secret meeting he had arranged with Taliban and Afghan leaders aimed at ending America’s longest war.
Trump’s remark to reporters at the White House suggested he sees no point in resuming a nearly yearlong effort to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, whose protection of al-Qaida extremists in Afghanistan prompted the U.S. to invade after the 9/11 attacks.
Asked about the peace talks, Trump said, “They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead.”
It’s unclear whether Trump will go ahead with planned U.S. troop cuts and how the collapse of his talks will play out in divided Afghanistan.
In his Monday remarks to reporters, Trump said his administration is “looking at” whether to proceed with troop reductions that had been one element of the preliminary deal with the Taliban struck by presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
“We’d like to get out, but we’ll get out at the right time,” Trump said.
What had seemed like a potential deal to end America’s longest war unraveled, with Trump and the Taliban blaming each other for the collapse of nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha, Qatar.
The insurgents are now promising more bloodshed, and American advocates of withdrawing from the battlefield questioned Monday whether Trump’s decision to cancel what he called plans for a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders at the Camp David, Maryland, presidential retreat over the weekend had poisoned the prospects for peace.
Trump has been talking of a need to withdraw U.S. troops from the “endless war” in Afghanistan since his 2016 presidential campaign. And he said anew in a tweet Monday, “We have been serving as policemen in Afghanistan, and that was not meant to be the job of our Great Soldiers, the finest on earth.”
He added, without explanation, “Over the last four days, we have been hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years.”
There has been no evidence of a major U.S. military escalation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s weekend moves.
“When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that’s not going to work,” Pompeo said Sunday.
Trump said he called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence. However, the emerging agreement had started unraveling days earlier after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the U.S. before a deal was signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.
As Trump’s re-election campaign heats up, his quest to withdraw the remaining 13,000-14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan remains unfulfilled — so far.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined Monday to comment on the outlook for the administration’s plan to reduce the U.S. troop level in Afghanistan to 8,600.
Democrats said Trump’s decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence he was moving too quickly to get one. Far from guaranteeing a cease-fire, the deal only included Taliban commitments to reduce violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.
The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government it sees as illegitimate and a puppet of the West. So, the Trump administration tried another approach, negotiating with the Taliban first to get a deal that would lead to Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government.
A U.S. official familiar with the Taliban negotiations said the “very closely held” idea of a Camp David meeting was first discussed up to a week and a half ago. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
Some administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, did not back the agreement with the Taliban as it was written, the official said. They didn’t think the Taliban can be trusted. Bolton advised the president to draw down the U.S. force to 8,600 — enough to counter terror threats — and “let it be” until a better deal could be hammered out, the official said.