During an unannounced Thanksgiving Day visit to Bagram Airfield, the largest United States military base in Afghanistan, Donald Trump made a bombshell announcement about U.S. peace talks with the Taliban insurgency in that country. According to Trump’s remarks, Taliban leaders “want to do a cease-fire.”
“And it will probably work out that way,” Trump said, as quoted in a report by The New York Times. “And we’ll see what happens.”
According to that same report, however, Trump’s claim came as a surprise to Taliban leaders, who said their position had not changed since the president abruptly cut off talks with the radical Islamic group in early September.
“The Americans walked away from the negotiating table, and now the ball is on their side,” the paper quoted Taliban negotiator Suhail Shaheen as saying. “Our positions remain the same.”
In an announcement on September 7, Trump revealed that he had invited Taliban leaders to the presidential retreat at Camp David “to secretly meet with me.” The visit would have occurred just three days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for which the Taliban were partly responsible.
Trump said that he called off the Camp David visit and stopped negotiations after a Taliban attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed an American service member as well as 11 others. At the point the talks were called off, the U.S. had reportedly agreed to withdraw 5,400 of the approximately 14,000 American troops in the country.
But the Taliban rejected calls for a cease-fire in its insurgent war against the Afghan government and American troops.
“It’s unclear how American negotiators could get the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire now, when they were not able to do so earlier,” The New York Times reported.
According to an earlier report from The New York Times, the U.S. has already pulled out about 2,000 troops from Afghanistan, leaving the total number of American soldiers between 12,000 and 13,000 in that country. The withdrawals give U.S. negotiators “even less leverage” in demanding that the Taliban agree to a cease-fire in the bloody conflict, The New York Times reported.
Though acknowledging that some behind-the-scenes talks had taken place in recent weeks between U.S. and Taliban negotiators, the Taliban’s official spokesperson told the Qatar-based Al Jazeera news service that it was “way too early to talk about the resumption of talks for now.”
The Taliban also continues to refuse negotiations with the Afghan government. At the scuttled Camp David meetings, Trump said that he had invited the president of Afghanistan to the negotiations, as well as Taliban leaders.