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Trump suspends Afghan peace talks after Kabul attack, cancels secret meeting with Taliban.

NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump said Saturday he had canceled a secret meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David in Maryland, and is suspending Afghan peace negotiations after the militant group claimed responsibility for a car bomb this week that killed an American soldier and 11 others people.

The announcement, delivered on Twitter, surprised much of Washington and diplomats at the UN, raising questions about the future of the U.S. in Afghanistan if the peace talks do not get back on track.

The president said that Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani were preparing to travel to the United States this weekend, presumably to finalize an agreement that has been in the works for months to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Instead, Trump said he abruptly canceled the meeting following the Taliban attack.

"I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations," Trump wrote in a tweet Saturday. "What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?"

The Taliban have long scoffed at the idea of a cease-fire and they have reportedly been behind many recent attacks in Afghanistan. Separately, there were earlier reports that President Ghani was postponing his plans to visit the U.S.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty cited an unnamed Afghan cabinet minister saying the U.S. delayed Ghani's visit because he was unhappy with a draft peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban.

The talks, had they happened, would have been an extraordinary moment in the history of the United States and Afghanistan. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- the 18th anniversary of which is Wednesday -- overthrowing the Taliban government there because it was harbouring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Trump disclosed that he had planned to meet with Taliban and Afghan officials on Sunday at Camp David. He instead accused Taliban officials of trying to "build false leverage" ahead of those talks with the bombing.

"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. They were coming to the United States tonight," Trump tweeted.

"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?"

Trump continued: "They didn't, they only made it worse! 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?"

Trump has said he wants to pull thousands of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. His administration has been negotiating with the Taliban to reduce the roughly 14,000 troops now in Afghanistan. A U.S. envoy said on Monday that an initial agreement had been reached to achieve that goal,but Trump remained noncommittal about his support.

More than 2,400 American soldiers have been killed in the war, according to the most recent figures from the Pentagon.

As recently as Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. had "delivered" on its promises in Afghanistan and seemed to defend the emerging agreement.

"If you go back and look at the days following 9/11, the objectives set out were pretty clear: to go defeat al-Qaeda, the group that had launched the attack on the United States of America from Afghanistan," Pompeo said in an interview with a conservative website. "And today, al-Qaeda ... doesn't even amount to a shadow of its former self in Afghanistan ... We have delivered."

The State Department declined comments and referred questions about Trump's announcement to the White House.

Trump's desire to reduce America's military presence in Afghanistan has been criticized - including by some of Trump's strongest supporters - who fear a U.S. withdrawal will open the door for a resurgence of al-Qaeda, as well as other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic State.

The president is also under pressure to avoid a hasty agreement in order to achieve his campaign promise to reduce troop levels. That pressure has come from Afghan leaders, some Republican members of Congress and also hawks within his White House.

"This will make President Ghani happy but will slow down hopes for an early September deal," Aaron David Miller, a diplomat who has worked for administrations of both parties, was quoted as saying in the America media reports. "Bottom line - there are no good withdrawal deals. If Trump wants out, (it's) likely a choice between bad and worse."

Brett Bruen, a former foreign service officer and global engagement director for President Barack Obama, expressed shock that any American president would invite the Taliban, a group that has targeted American soldiers throughout the war, to the U.S.

"Coming to the United States, let alone to a presidential retreat, is a prize saved for when real concessions have been made," Bruen was quoted as saying. "As we have seen in North Korea, Trump's negotiations with our adversaries are marked by their preference for style over strategy. Ultimately it is a recipe for damaging our influence and the prospects for peace."
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Publication:Daily the Pak Banker (Lahore, Pakistan)
Date:Sep 9, 2019
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