Taliban talks 'dead' after Trump's surprise Camp David plan

 

Peace talks with the Taliban are “dead,” President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE said Monday, following a roller-coaster weekend that saw Trump reveal and then cancel a planned Camp David summit with Taliban leaders.

“They’re dead,” he said Monday of U.S. talks with the Taliban. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead.”

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The president’s comments on Monday came after some GOP lawmakers questioned the wisdom of hosting the Taliban for peace talks on U.S. soil just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that led to the war in Afghanistan.

Trump, who has been looking to shore up a peace deal in the 18-year war ahead of the 2020 election, said over the weekend that he canceled the meeting after a Taliban attack on Thursday killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.

A summit with a peace agreement would have followed Trump’s penchant for spectacle in foreign policy as he works to achieve what has eluded the past two U.S. presidents in Afghanistan.

Instead, Trump’s campaign promise to end America’s longest war appears to be fizzling out, though he has reversed course on major military decisions before.

It’s unclear whether Trump will scale back the U.S. presence in Afghanistan without a Taliban deal. On Monday, he told reporters he is “looking at” whether to move forward with a drawdown, saying, “We’d like to get out, but we’ll get out at the right time.”

Trump also accused the media of manufacturing drama following news reports that Vice President Pence and national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonOfficial testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Top NSC aide puts Sondland at front lines of Ukraine campaign, speaking for Trump Highly irregular: Rudy, the president, and a venture in Ukraine MORE opposed the Camp David plan.

“A lot of Fake News is being reported that I overruled the VP and various advisers on a potential Camp David meeting with the Taliban,” Trump tweeted. “This Story is False! I always think it is good to meet and talk, but in this case I decided not to.”

The Trump administration has been negotiating with the Taliban for nearly a year in an effort to end America’s longest war.

Last week, negotiators appeared to be on the brink of securing a deal, with lead U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad saying the draft agreement would see nearly 5,000 U.S. troops leave and five bases close within 135 days.

In exchange, the Taliban would provide assurances that it would not allow terrorist groups to use Afghanistan as a launch point for attacks against the United States.

The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan with two missions: to help Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and to conduct counterterrorism operations against groups like ISIS and al Qaeda.

On the Friday before Labor Day, Trump and his top advisers gathered in the Situation Room to discuss the agreement, according to multiple reports Monday. In the days that followed, Trump, who considers himself the ultimate deal-maker, came up with the plan to finalize the deal with meetings involving the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David.

The administration reportedly faced difficulty getting both Ghani and the Taliban to accept the invitations. Ghani has felt sidelined in the U.S. negotiations, and the Taliban wanted a deal announced before attending the summit.

But on Thursday the Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Kabul that killed a U.S. soldier, a Romanian service member and 10 Afghan civilians. From there, the Camp David plan fell apart.

The plan might have remained a secret — if not for Trump announcing on Twitter that he was canceling the summit.

“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 tweeted Saturday.

“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,” Trump added. “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”

The president’s revelation stunned much of Washington, with the thought of the Taliban at the storied presidential retreat just days before the 9/11 anniversary confounding lawmakers on both sides.

“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” tweeted Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyLawmakers call for extra security for anti-Erdoğan protesters  Live updates on impeachment: Schiff fires warning at GOP over whistleblower Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite MORE (R-Wyo.), whose father was vice president during the attacks. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”

Cheney said on Sunday that Trump was “right to end the talks.”

Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerHonoring service before self House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan, similarly said it would be “unacceptable” for the Taliban to come to Camp David.

“A terrorist organization that doesn’t recognize nation states, that kills innocent women and children, that denies women the right to really even be in the same room as their husbands ... to have them at Camp David is totally unacceptable,” Kinzinger said Sunday on CNN.

Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN he does “not ever want to see these terrorists step foot on United States soil. Period.”

Democrats blasted Trump’s initial plan, casting it as another example of his ad hoc foreign policy.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezGraham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the talks “ill-conceived” from the start because the Afghan government has been sidelined. Further, he said, it would be “outrageous” to bring the Taliban to the United States on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary.

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“This is about a president who is more interested in sizzle than substance, high-wire diplomacy, as I’ve said, without a safety net,” Menendez said Monday on CNN. “At the end of the day, we all want to see our soldiers back, but it has to be back honoring the lives and national treasure that has been spent in Afghanistan and creating an environment in which there’s security for the United States moving into the future.”

On Monday, Trump defended his initial plan, saying that without meeting, “wars would never end.”

“I took my own advice. I liked the idea of meeting. I’ve met with a lot of bad people and a lot of good people over the course of the last three years. I think that meeting is a great thing,” he said.

With peace talks now suspended, the U.S. military signaled it will accelerate operations against the Taliban following the insurgency’s increased attacks. The Taliban responded to Trump’s cancelation by promising “losses to lives and assets will increase.”

Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan on Monday that the Taliban overplayed its hand in ramping up violence.

“We’re certainly not going to sit still and let them carry out some self-described race to victory. That’s not going to happen,” McKenzie said, according to Reuters.

Asked what increased operations could include, McKenzie said, “I think we’re talking a total spectrum.”