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Trump calls off secret meeting with Taliban over Kabul bombing

Donald Trump tweeted that he's called off a secret meeting with Taliban leaders planned for Sunday at Camp David after a bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media before boarding Marine One to depart from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC for Camp David in Maryland on August 30, 2019. 

President Trump said on Saturday that he had canceled a secret meeting at Camp David with Taliban leaders and the president of Afghanistan and was calling off monthslong negotiations that had appeared to be nearing a peace agreement.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone,”Trump wrote in a series of tweets, Taliban leaders and the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, were headed to the United States on Saturday for what would have been a politically electrified meeting at the president’s official Camp David retreat in Maryland.

But Trump said that “in order to build false leverage,” the Taliban had admitted to a suicide car bomb attack on Thursday that had killed an American soldier and 11 others in the capital of Kabul. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations,” he wrote.

“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 added. “How many more decades are they willing to fight?”

Trump’s announcement was startling for multiple reasons. A surprise summit at Camp David with leaders of an insurgent group that has killed thousands of Americans since the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan would have been a sensational diplomatic gambit, on par with Trump’s meetings with the once-reclusive North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

A senior administration official said the meeting had been planned for Monday, just two days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which were plotted from Afghanistan and led to the United States’ invasion of the country.

Trump’s tweets will come as a shock to European allies and other governments, including Pakistan and Qatar, that have sought to support the talks.

Norway has already begun preparations for the planned peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, according to foreign diplomats and U.S. officials briefed on the negotiations.

The negotiations have been underway since last winter, whenTrump’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, began regular trips to Doha, Qatar, for grueling sessions with Taliban representatives.

United States and foreign officials said that the talks had reached an advanced stage and, until Saturday night, that an agreement with the Pashtun insurgent group that once harbored the Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was close at hand.

In nine rounds of negotiations, Khalilzad painstakingly worked toward what would be a phased peace agreement — initially a deal between the United States and the Taliban that would open the door for direct negotiations between the Afghan sides, before all of it comes together into a final Afghan peace deal.

Khalilzad has pledged to draw down American military troops in exchange for a partial cease-fire by the Taliban. In a recent interview with the Afghan channel ToloNews, he said 5,400 United States forces would leave Afghanistan within 135 days after the agreement is signed.

That agreement would initially only reduce the number of American troops to about what it was when Trump took office in 2017.

As for the remaining 8,600 American forces, they would leave according to a gradual timeline that officials said could be within 16 months.

The Taliban controls or heavily influences about half the country, and some U.S. officials fear it could invade the other regions.

Critics of the nascent agreement — including the former American commander in Afghanistan, the retired Army general, David H. Petraeus — have warned that it could lead to the return of Al Qaeda.

Several have invoked the cautionary example of Barack Obama’s troop withdrawal from Iraq, which many national security experts blame for the 2014 emergence of the Islamic State in that country.

And in a Sept. 3 statement published by the Atlantic Council, nine former senior American diplomats with extensive experience in Afghanistan warned that a “major withdrawal of U.S. forces should follow, not come in advance of real peace agreement.” Anarchy in Afghanistan after a premature American exit “could prove catastrophic for U.S. national security” and would “underscore to potential enemies that the United States and its allies are not reliable,” the statement said.

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