Afghan peace talks on hold, US to keep pressure on Taliban
Trump cancels Camp David discussions after US soldier killed in Kabul attack
Washington — Talks on bringing peace to Afghanistan are on hold and the US will keep pressurising Taliban militants for commitments while providing military support to Afghan troops, secretary of state Mike Pompeo says.
US President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced on Saturday that he had cancelled peace talks with the Taliban’s “major leaders” at the Camp David, Maryland, presidential compound after the group claimed responsibility for a Kabul attack last week that killed a US soldier and 11 other people.
The US has recalled its special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to Washington to chart the path forward, Pompeo said on Sunday. Asked whether Afghan talks were dead, Pompeo said “for the time being they are”.
US diplomats have been talking with Taliban representatives for months about a plan to withdraw thousands of American troops in exchange for security guarantees by the Taliban.
US and Taliban negotiators struck a draft peace deal last week that could have led to a drawdown in US troops from America’s longest war, one of Trump’s foreign policy objectives.
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 said. “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’.”
After news emerged of the Camp David scenario, Trump was criticised for having planned to host on US soil a militant group that has killed US troops and sheltered al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
“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.
Americans will on Wednesday mark the 18th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Taliban fighters, who now control more territory than at any time since 2001, launched fresh assaults over the past week, including a suicide attack in Kabul on Thursday that took the life of US army sergeant Elis A Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Puerto Rico, bringing the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan in 2019 to 16.
Pompeo said the US will 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 have 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.
“We’re not just going to withdraw because there’s a timeline,” he said.