September 9, 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump’s abrupt cancellation of planned peace talks with Taliban leaders creates new uncertainty about his vow to end the country’s 18-year military effort to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and could lead to more bloodshed ahead of Afghan elections late this month.
Trump called off separate negotiations with the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani he was planning at his Camp David presidential retreat outside Washington on Sunday after the Taliban announced it had carried out a car bomb attack in Kabul last week that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.
Trump, who fashions himself as a dealmaker from his pre-presidential days as a real estate mogul, had hoped to reach an agreement calling for withdrawal of 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
But his deal-making efforts drew wide public scorn from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike for his plan to invite the Taliban to Camp David, for decades the scene of high-level talks between U.S. and foreign leaders.
U.S. news outlets reported Vice President Mike Pence and Trump national security adviser John Bolton internally at the White House voiced objections to holding the meeting at Camp David. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Sunday that Trump wanted to confront the Taliban in person and that the administration decided it was “acceptable” to meet at Camp David.
The U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is the longest war in American history. It was started with U.S. military efforts to wipe out al-Qaida terrorist training grounds protected by the Taliban that were used to launch the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., with the 18th anniversary of the attack on Wednesday.
With Afghan peace efforts in limbo, Trump could still draw down U.S. troops without a peace accord. But analysts say the cancellation of the negotiations, at least least for the moment, could lead to a surge of violence ahead of the Sept. 28 Afghan election in which Ghani is seen as a front-runner. The Taliban said American troops “will suffer more than anyone else” with Trump’s abrupt cancellation of the peace talks.
A leading Republican congresswoman, Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in office at the time of the 2001 terrorist attack, said, “Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11. No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”
Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said of the meeting: “It’s another example of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, which is a high-wire act that ultimately is focused on Trump as a persona, but not in the strategic, methodical effort of creating peace.”
Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan before winning a seat in the House of Representatives, said on Twitter, “Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn’t renounced 9/11 and continue in evil be allowed in our great country. NEVER. Full stop.”
“I’m still looking for confirmation an actual, physical trip to Camp David was planned,” said Democratic presidential candidate hopeful Julian Castro. “It’s very odd to invite a terrorist organization like that to Camp David.”
Pompeo said Trump’s planned meetings with the Taliban and Ghani, albeit separate talks with each, were set in the belief that they “could further America’s national interest” to end the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
He said “lots of bad folks have come through” Camp David over the years. He said Trump made the decision for the meetings, quoting the president as saying, “I want to talk to President Ghani. I want to talk to the Taliban negotiators. I want to look them in the eye. I want to see if we can get to the final outcome….”
Negotiators for the U.S. and Taliban have held nearly a year of peace talks. U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad last week said his team of negotiators had drawn up a draft framework agreement that, if approved by Trump, would allow 5,000 American troops to leave five military bases in the country within 135 days.
Pompeo said Khalilzad has been told to return home.
While Trump has vowed to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Pompeo said, “We’re not going to just walk away, if it’s not right” for American security interests in protecting against terrorism.
“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,” he said.
The Taliban said the U.S.’s “credibility will be harmed, their anti-peace stance will become more visible to the world, their casualties and financial losses will increase, and the U.S. role in international political interaction will be discredited even further.”
Even with the initial goal of attacking the al-Qaida training grounds, the Afghan war has dragged on for years, with nearly 2,400 U.S. military personnel killed and more than 20,000 wounded in action.
But with Trump’s cancellation of the Camp David meetings, the fate of the tentative peace agreement that had been reached between the U.S. and the Taliban is in question. The Taliban said it had agreed to hold intra-Afghan talks with the Ghani government on September 23.
After Trump called off the Camp David meetings, the Afghan government said it remained “committed to working together with the United States and other allies to being a lasting peace.”