Trump calls off secret meeting with Taliban, Afghan leaders




 

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump said Saturday he canceled a secret weekend meeting at Camp David with Taliban and Afghanistan leaders after a bombing this week in Kabul that killed 11 people, including an American soldier, and has called off peace negotiations with the insurgent group.

Trump has been under pressure from the Afghan government, lawmakers and some members of his administration who mistrust the Taliban and think it's too early to withdraw American forces. The administration's diplomat talking to the Taliban leaders for months in recent days said he was on the "threshold" of an agreement with the Taliban aimed at ending America's longest war.

"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 evening.

"They were coming to the United States tonight. 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," he wrote.

On Thursday, a Taliban car bomb exploded and killed an American soldier, a Romanian service member and 10 civilians in a busy diplomatic area near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The bombing was one of many attacks by the Taliban in recent days during U.S.-Taliban talks.

The Defense Department says Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico, was killed in action when the explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was the fourth U.S. service member killed in the past two weeks in Afghanistan.

"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 tweeted. "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. How many more decades are they willing to fight?"

It's unclear if the U.S.-Taliban talks are over or only paused.

The U.S. envoy negotiating with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, abruptly returned to Qatar late last week for unexpected talks with the insurgents on the deal that he had described as complete just days earlier. Khalilzad said last Monday that the agreement "in principle" to begin a U.S. troop withdrawal only needed Trump's approval.

Since Khalilzad's announcement, two horrific Taliban car bombings in the Afghan capital, Kabul - including the one that killed the U.S. soldier - and objections to the deal from the Afghan government and several former U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan have put pressure on the Trump administration as many wonder whether a deal will truly bring peace.

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 U.S. That stance has appalled Afghans and others as scores of civilians have been killed.

On Friday, Khalilzad met with Taliban lead negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, with Qatar's foreign minister present, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a tweet late in the evening. Both Thursday's and Friday's meetings were "positive," he said.

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