Divided White House Prompted Trump to Call Off Taliban Talks - USA DAILY NEWS

Divided White House Prompted Trump to Call Off Taliban Talks

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’s decision to suspend talks with the Taliban stemmed from opposing views within his administration, the group’s refusal to meet certain conditions and growing bipartisan criticism of an emerging deal to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Even after the chief U.S. diplomat to the Afghan peace process outlined an agreement in principle with the Taliban, the president himself turned down opportunities to sign off on one, according to a person familiar with the internal deliberations.

Mr. Trump’s national security adviser,

John Bolton,

has also consistently opposed making a deal with the Taliban, aides said. Mr. Bolton has advised that the president can make good on his promise to draw down troops in Afghanistan without agreeing to one. That option, Mr. Bolton has said, gives the president flexibility to revisit talks in the future.


Should President Trump meet with Afghanistan’s president and Taliban leaders? Why or why not? Join the conversation below.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump suspended talks between the U.S. and the Taliban in Qatar and said a previously undisclosed peace summit at Camp David was canceled, a move welcomed by Afghan officials.

Mr. Trump cited a car-bomb attack in the east of the Afghan capital Thursday that killed 12 people, including a Romanian and a U.S. soldier, and wounded dozens, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. This year, 15 other U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan.

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” Mr. Trump, a Republican, wrote on Twitter Saturday night. “How many more decades are they willing to fight?”

The Afghan government, which had not been a party to the Qatar talks, praised Mr. Trump’s decision on Sunday. But a Taliban official, speaking on behalf of the group in Doha, the capital of Qatar, said Taliban leaders had not in fact agreed to a meeting until the deal was completed, accusing the president of lying about the purported Camp David plans. Any deal would have been announced in Doha first, the official said.

“We accepted the invitation but said we would come soon after the signing ceremony of the agreement,” the Taliban official told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

Secretary of State

Mike Pompeo

declined on Sunday to say whether the planned meeting had actually been confirmed.

“There’s been some confusion,” Mr. Pompeo said on CBS. “Suffice it to say, we were confident that we were going to be able to have these meetings, what would be this afternoon, at Camp David.”

He also said there remained outstanding disagreements with the Taliban.

“We weren’t complete, still lots of implementation issues, lots of technical issues that needed to be worked on even though we’ve been doing this for months,” Mr. Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday.

He didn’t elaborate, but officials who follow the process closely have said these include the extent of U.S. military support for Afghan forces and how to implement the deal, a key component of which is talks among Afghans and reducing violence in places where the U.S. has withdrawn its troops.

Mr. Trump’s comments about the planned meeting with the Taliban drew strong reactions Sunday from lawmakers.

“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” Rep.

Liz Cheney

(R., Wyo.) wrote on Twitter. She added, “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever. The Taliban still harbors al Qaeda. The President is right to end the talks.”


Amy Klobuchar

(D., Minn.), who is running for president, agreed the U.S. should be holding talks with the Kabul government and the Taliban, but told NBC that Mr. Trump “clearly wanted this showman’s moment of having them come to Camp David, when he didn’t even have a complete cease-fire.”

Zalmay Khalilzad,

the top U.S. negotiator in the peace process, said a week ago that the U.S. and the Taliban were on the “threshold of an agreement” and that a completed deal awaited Mr. Trump’s signoff.

Sediq Seddiqi, spokesman for Afghanistan’s president, praised President Trump’s decision to cancel a secret meeting with Afghan and Taliban leaders and suspend U.S. negotiations with the insurgents.


Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

Under the proposed accord between the U.S. and the Taliban, about 5,000 U.S. troops would withdraw 135 days after the deal is signed. Mr. Pompeo declined to say on Sunday whether Mr. Trump would nevertheless go ahead with the long-planned withdrawal.

Most of the remaining 9,500 U.S. forces, along with about 8,600 additional foreign forces, mainly from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, would be withdrawn in phases, provided the Taliban follows through on its assurances not to allow Islamic State, al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups to operate in Afghanistan. The Taliban also would agree to enter talks with other Afghans in Oslo.

After Mr. Khalilzad briefed the Afghan government last week about the proposed accord, the Kabul administration said it was concerned the deal had no penalties should the Taliban not honor promises under the deal.

Since taking office, Mr. Trump has been torn between his longtime opposition to the war and resistance from within his cabinet and Congress to pull troops out.

The president had continued to equivocate over a deal. “I don’t know that it’s going to happen,” he said Aug. 29 on Fox News Radio. “It’s getting close, but if it happens—who knows if it’s going to happen.”

After reluctantly agreeing to a plan to increase troops and escalate operations against the Taliban, Mr. Trump replaced national security adviser

H.R. McMaster,

the main proponent of the so-called South Asian strategy to force the Taliban to the table. Mr. Trump later chose Mr. Khalilzad to get a deal with the Taliban instead.

Mr. Khalilzad has been under intense pressure to reach a deal by Sept. 1. Former officials who follow Afghanistan closely said Mr. Trump has been trapped in the same corner as his predecessor, President Obama, in the face of warnings from the national security establishment that pulling out could expose the U.S. to another major terrorist attack.

Mr. Trump was personally dismayed by the death last week of a U.S. soldier in the bomb attack in Kabul, and the Taliban’s claim of responsibility weighed on him heavily, a person familiar with the matter said.

Thursday’s suicide bombing in the Afghan capital was the latest in a series of Taliban attacks as the negotiations entered their late stages. Since the U.S. and the Taliban resumed direct talks in Doha more than a year ago, both sides have escalated military operations to gain leverage at the negotiating table.

On Sunday, Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. has killed over 1,000 insurgents in the past 10 days. In July, the United Nations said U.S. and Afghan security forces had been responsible for more civilian deaths this year than the Taliban.

Meanwhile, long-simmering skepticism about the deal has stepped up in Washington since Mr. Khalilzad comments last week.

In a joint letter last Tuesday, six former U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan condemned the U.S. approach to negotiating a troop withdrawal, warning it risked a return to “total civil war.”

The secrecy around the deal and the prospect of a full U.S. withdrawal has drawn criticism on Capitol Hill.


Lindsey Graham

(R., S.C.) has said he would introduce legislation that would require the secretaries of defense and state to certify that a withdrawal wouldn’t expose the U.S. to a terrorist attack at home.

On Thursday, Rep.

Eliot Engel

(D., N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on Mr. Khalilzad to testify before the committee and give the American people “a long-overdue opportunity to understand the contours of your negotiations with the Taliban and the potential risks and opportunities that may result.”

Mr. Trump’s decision, announced in a series of tweets Saturday evening, allayed, at least for the moment, mounting fears of Afghan officials, politicians and many in the public that an imminent deal between Washington and the Taliban was catapulting the country toward catastrophe. The decision also paves the way for Afghan President

Ashraf Ghani

to hold a twice-postponed presidential election this month, which could extend his time in power.

The insurgents have refused to hold direct talks with the Kabul administration, which they view as illegitimate.

Afghan officials lambasted the draft deal during four days of briefings with Mr. Khalilzad in Kabul this week, branding it “meaningless” and insisting the agreement’s guarantees of Taliban compliance weren’t strong enough.

Sediq Seddiqi,

spokesman for Mr. Ghani, said Mr. Trump’s announcement demonstrated his understanding that the draft accord “would not lead to a cease-fire and direct talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.” The U.S. president’s decision, Mr. Seddiqi said, “reflects the concerns raised by the Afghan people and government about a process that would make a group that is behind the killings of so many innocent people, both Afghans and otherwise, look victorious, rather than lead them to halt violence.”

“The Taliban’s honeymoon in Doha should be ended,” he said later.

Write to Jessica Donati at jessica.donati@wsj.com, Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Craig Nelson at craig.nelson@wsj.com

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