Trump says he ‘called off’ peace talks with Taliban over attack

US president also says he cancelled secret meetings with Taliban and Afghan leaders planned for Sunday at Camp David.

US President Donald Trump said on Saturday he cancelled peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders after the group said it was behind an attack in Kabul that killed a US soldier and 11 other people.

Trump made the announcement in a series of tweets, saying he “called off” the peace negotiations and “cancelled” a secret meeting with the Taliban’s “major leaders” that was planned for Sunday at a presidential compound in Camp David, Maryland. Trump said he had also planned to meet Afghanistan’s president.

“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” Trump tweeted, adding that the Taliban sought to “build false leverage”.

“I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” Trump said.

It is unclear if the US-Taliban talks are permanently over or only paused.

The US president has been under pressure from the Afghan government, politicians and some members of his administration who mistrust the Taliban and think it’s too early to withdraw US forces.

Taliban fighters, who now control more territory than at any time since 2001, launched fresh assaults on the northern Afghan cities of Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri over the past week and carried out two major suicide bombings in the capital Kabul.

Elis A Barreto Ortiz, a US Army sergeant 1st class, was killed in one of the blasts, bringing the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 16. A Romanian soldier was also killed.

Draft peace deal

Earlier this week, US and Taliban negotiators struck a draft peace deal which could lead to a withdrawal of US troops from the US’s longest war. But a wave of Taliban violence has cast a long shadow over a possible deal.

US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, who oversees US troops in the region, declined to comment on the diplomatic negotiations themselves.

“It is particularly unhelpful at this moment in Afghanistan’s history for the Taliban to ramp up violence,” McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told reporters travelling with him.

McKenzie said for the peace process to move forward, “all parties should be committed to an eventual political settlement” which, in turn, should result in reduced violence.

“If we can’t get that going in, then it is difficult to see the parties are going to be able to carry out the terms of the agreement, whatever they might or might not be,” McKenzie said.

Under the draft accord, thousands of US troops would be withdrawn over the coming months in exchange for guarantees Afghanistan would not be used as a base for attacks on the US and its allies.

However, a full peace agreement to end more than 18 years of war would depend on subsequent “intra Afghan” talks. The Taliban have rejected calls for a ceasefire and instead stepped up operations across the country.

The Taliban have explained their surge in deadly attacks, which have included the capitals of northern Kunduz and Baghlan provinces last weekend, as necessary to give them a stronger negotiating position in talks with the US.

For many Afghans, the Taliban’s recent escalation of attacks has underscored fears it may be impossible to reach a stable settlement following any complete US withdrawal.

Many have worried about a fracture along ethnic and regional lines.

Some Taliban members are based in neighbouring Pakistan, where McKenzie held talks on Saturday with a top Pakistani general. More talks are scheduled for Sunday.

McKenzie said he did not know whether any of the planning for the recent wave of attacks in Afghanistan came from Pakistan-based fighters.



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