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Taliban say US 'will be harmed more than anyone' after Trump halts talks

Trump’s announcement draws a fresh question mark on whether the United States will leave Afghanistan anytime soon.

Image: DPA/PA Images

Updated Sep 8th 2019, 4:57 PM

THE TALIBAN SAID the US “will be harmed more than anyone” but left the door open for future negotiations after President Donald Trump abruptly announced that he had called off year-long talks to end America’s longest war.

“We still… believe that the American side will come back to this position… Our fight for the past 18 years should have proven to the Americans that we will not be satisfied until we witness the complete end of the occupation,” the group said in a statement released on Twitter by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

The statement said the insurgents had “finalised” a deal with the US that had been expected to allow Washington to begin withdrawing troops in exchange for security promises from the Taliban.

It added that both sides had been preparing for the deal to be announced and signed when Trump tweeted late Saturday that he had “called off peace negotiations”.

On Saturday evening, Trump said that he had planned unprecedented, albeit separate, talks with the two sides today in Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, but that the Taliban’s persistent, violence made them untrustworthy partners.

“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 said in a tweet.

“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.

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump said.

But the Taliban dismissed his reasoning in their statement, saying it showed “neither experience nor patience”, and accused the US of killing “hundreds of Afghans” in the fighting. 

“Americans will be harmed more than any other,” by Trump’s decision, the statement said, adding that the US’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 US role in international political interaction will be discredited even further.” 

A US soldier and another service member from Romania were killed in a bombing on Thursday in Kabul – the latest major attack claimed by the Taliban even as they negotiated with a US envoy on the withdrawal of thousands of troops.

Trump would have met the Taliban at Camp David days before the 18th anniversary of the 11 September attacks, which triggered the US invasion that toppled the militants’ regime.

Washington was jolted by the announcement from Trump, who is fond of dramatic gestures but whose Twitter pronouncements have often come into question later.

“Why a lethal attack in Kabul on Thursday would be the reason for calling it off, considering the multiple recent Taliban attacks, is unclear,” said International Crisis Group’s Asia director Laurel Miller, who earlier served as the US special representative on Afghanistan.

Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who has been pressing for clarity on the US strategy in Afghanistan, called the idea of Taliban leaders at Camp David “weird.”

“But I’m glad the president called off this farce, and hope this good decision sticks,” Malinowski tweeted.

xinhua-photos-of-the-day A destroyed vehicle is carried away from the site of a car bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, 5 September. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Unpopular in Kabul 

The announcement appears to abruptly end, at least for now, a diplomatic process led for nearly a year by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born veteran US diplomat who held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban, usually in Qatar.

Khalilzad had earlier said that he had reached an agreement “in principle” with the Taliban.

According to parts of the draft deal made public, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops from five bases across Afghanistan next year.

The insurgents, in turn, would renounce Al-Qaeda, promise to fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.

Afghanistan’s internationally recognised president, Ashraf Ghani, had been outspoken in his criticism of the emerging shape of the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, who have refused to negotiate with his government.

“The Afghan government, in relation to the peace, appreciates the sincere efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other allies to bring a lasting peace,” said a statement from Ghani’s office Sunday in response to Trump’s announcement.

Question mark on troops

Trump’s announcement draws a fresh question mark on whether the United States will leave Afghanistan anytime soon.

The decision comes weeks before Afghanistan is set to hold elections. The Afghan government said it “insists” the polls should go ahead in its statement today 

Trump had been uncharacteristically reticent about Afghanistan in recent weeks, with all eyes on whether he would approve a final deal.

afghanistan-kunar-militants-surrender Taliban militants and Islamic State fighters are seen in a surrender ceremony in Kunar province, Afghanistan, 4 Sept. 4. As many as 150 militants surrendered to the government in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province on Wednesday. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Washington had hoped that a withdrawal of US troops would lead to peace negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul.

The Taliban have shown no signs of letting up on violence. Claiming responsibility for Thursday’s bombing in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that a suicide bomber had killed “foreign invaders.”

“Since the Taliban were flexing muscles on the ground, Americans also showed them they have a say politically,” analyst Ahmad Saeedi said – adding that he expects talks to resume again.

Trump has walked away from high-stakes talks before. In February, his aides pressed him not to accept a deal in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But Trump soon made clear that he wanted to keep talking, calling Kim a friend, and arranged to meet him in June as the US leader visited the Korean peninsula.

- © AFP 2019

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