Donald Trump sprang a major surprise that drew criticism when he revealed there had been plans for secretpeace talks on in the US beginning on Sunday and bringinghim face to face with Taliban leaders at Camp David – but that he had cancelled the clandestine summit at the last minute.
A Saturday night tweet said that “unbeknownst to almost everyone” major Taliban leaders were going to meet him at the presidential retreat in Maryland and, separately, so was the president of , but that Trump had “called off” the negotiations after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a blast in Kabul that killed 12 people including a US soldier on Thursday.
The Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger, a fellow Republican, hit out on Twitter at the idea of talks at all at this point, saying: “Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn’t renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country. NEVER. Full stop.”
In a series of tweets, Trump also wrote:“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” Trump wrote, accusing leaders of trying to build leverage ahead of Sunday’s talks.
“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.”
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, defended the secretive meeting and said plans to bring the Taliban to Camp David had been at play for “a while”.
“We’ve been working on this peace and reconciliation program for some time,” Pompeo told CNN’s State of the Union political talk program on Sunday morning.
While Pompeo insisted that peace talks would not continue unless the terms would protect US interests and safety – such as reductions in violence – he indicated that the White House was willing to revisit negotiations, saying, “I am confident President Trump will continue the process.”
Afghans cautiously welcomed the halt to any secret US-Taliban summit and appeared reluctant to support such talks at all with the US.
In the streets of Kabul on Sunday, some residents approved of Trump’s move to suspend the plan, at least.
“It is good that the talks have been cancelled, there should be intra-Afghan talks, and people should be involved in it, and they should be informed about it,” 52-year-old Mir Dil said.
If the Taliban “had accepted peace, they should have announced a ceasefire and then the talks should have moved forward”, he added.
The office of the Afghan president, , cautiously saluted the “sincere efforts of its allies” after Trump cancelled the meetings.
Ghani’s office also “insisted that a real peace can only be achieved if the Taliban stop killing Afghans and accept a ceasefire, and face-to-face talks with the Afghan government”, according to a statement.
The existence of the planned talks has yet to be confirmed by either the US state department or the Talibandespite drawing reaction from the Afghan government. But their abrupt apparent cancellation leaves a question mark over the future of peace talks intended to bring American involvement in Afghanistan to an end, an early Trump campaign pledge.
It also emphasises just how much faith the US president puts in personal diplomacy, even with people previous heads of state would have avoided meeting for fear of granting them legitimacy – now apparently including members of a militant group the US government officially classifies as terrorists.
American negotiators have reached an “agreement in principle” with Taliban leaders over nine rounds of talks in Qatar aimed at facilitating the withdrawal of the roughly 13,000 US troops who remain in Afghanistan nearly 18 years since the military campaign commenced.
Donald Trump’s ‘peace agreement’ is a betrayal of Afghanistan and its people | Simon Tisdall
The Camp David talks would have been held three days short of the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks by al-Qaida militants who were being harboured in Afghanistan by the then ruling Taliban regime, the justification for the US-led invasion of the country a few weeks later.
Most of the terms of the provisional peace agreement are classified but it would include the withdrawal of 5,000 American soldiers from five bases across Afghanistan by early next year.
The Taliban would agree to renounce al-Qaida, fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists from using the south Asian country as a safe haven.
Trump campaigned for office promising to get the US “out of the nation-building business” but was persuaded by his advisers to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2017. The surge failed to arrest the momentum of the resurgent Taliban, who now control more territory than at any time since they were ousted in 2001.
Bloodletting has continued in the battered country despite the negotiations, including on Thursday in Shash Darak, a fortified area near the green zone and home to important government headquarters including the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service.
The death of the American soldier was at least the 16th of a US service member in Afghanistan this year.
Pompeo, was at Dover air force base in Delaware early on Sunday, as a coffin carrying US army sergeant first class Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz was taken off a plane.
Barreto Ortiz was one of 12 people who died in the Taliban explosion near a checkpoint outside the US embassy in Kabul.
The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, saying a “martyrdom seeker” – or suicide bomber – was responsible for the car bombing and that “foreign invaders” had been killed.
Trump’s announcement that he would “call off peace negotiations” appears to abruptly end, at least for now, a painstaking and nearly year-long diplomatic process led by the veteran US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad.
Many Afghans had expressed deep unease throughout the talks, from which their internationally recognised government has been excluded, seeing them as a beaten America selling out in an attempt to escape Afghanistan.
Kabul resident Yama Safdari, 24, regretted that it took the death of one American to stop the process “while so many Afghan army forces and civilians are killed on a daily basis”.
“They don’t think about that,” she added.