In Brief

Donald Trump cancels secret meeting with Taliban

US president was due to host Afghan militants at Camp David just days before 9/11 anniversary

Donald Trump has called off a secret meeting with the Taliban in the US, throwing the fragile peace negotiations aimed at ending the 18 year war in Afghanistan into doubt.

The US president tweeted he had been set to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and senior Taliban leaders at his Camp David retreat on Sunday, but cancelled at the last minute after the militant group admitted to being behind a recent attack that killed a US soldier.

Talks between US and Taliban representatives have been taking place in Doha in Qatar but the decision to invite Taliban leaders and the Afghan president to Camp David was made a week ago in a meeting between Trump and his national security officials, a person familiar with the matter told CNN.

The news network says Trump, “who has been pressuring his team to develop drawdown plans, had grown discouraged by the peace talks after being told by national security adviser John Bolton and Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and foreign policy hawk, the emerging plan put too much trust in the Taliban”.

The BBC reports “a face-to-face meeting with the Taliban at Camp David - the site of past historic peace negotiations - would have been an extraordinary diplomatic move by the US president, especially as it would have come just ahead of the 18th anniversary of 9/11”.

But Trump's tweets “appeared to put an end to nearly a year of painstaking negotiations which had excluded the Afghan government in Kabul”, says the BBC.

The US is still interested in striking a peace deal with the Taliban, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN, but won't continue negotiations until there is proof that the Taliban can deliver on its commitments under a potential agreement.

The Taliban on Sunday said the president’s abrupt decision to cancel peace talks would lead to fresh losses to American lives in Afghanistan at a time when they were ready to finalise a deal to end the war.

“Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase,” Taliban spokeman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Almost 4,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of 2019, including a big increase in the number of casualties caused by government and foreign forces, the United Nations said in July.

Taliban fighters now control more territory than at any time since the war started in 2001 and have launched a series of recent attacks on northern cities, as well as claiming responsibility for bombings in the capital Kabul.

Reuters reports the Taliban’s strategy of fresh assaults “appears to be based on the assumption that battlefield success would strengthen their hand in future negotiations with US and Afghan officials”.

Some of their field commanders have also said they are determined not to surrender gains when they are close to victory, “suggesting the leadership is under internal pressure not to concede a ceasefire”, adds the news agency.

As part of the proposed deal, the US would have withdrawn 5,400 troops within 20 weeks, in return for Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan would never again be used as a base for terrorism.

The New York Times reports that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, “a skeptic of the American negotiations that left out his government, had agreed to the risky Camp David visit in the hopes of finding a way to end a period of great uncertainty for his country”.

The paper says he “was signing up for nothing less than a gamble, with the details of what might transpire at Camp David vague even to his closest circle of advisers”.

After Trump cancelled the meeting, Ghani, who is seeking a second term in elections scheduled for later this month, urged the Taliban to end violence and talk directly to his government.

“Real peace will come when Taliban agree to a ceasefire,” Ghani’s officials said.

The militants, however, have refused to engage with a government it calls America’s “puppets” until an agreement has been finalised with the US.

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