U.S. President Donald Trump shares a Thanksgiving dinner with US troops at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan Photo: AFP
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Months after abrupt halt, Trump gives blessing for Taliban deal

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By Shaun TANDON

Nearly three months after he abruptly ended talks with the Taliban, President Donald Trump has given his blessing to fresh diplomacy, but major obstacles stand in the way of a deal to end the Afghanistan war.

Chief among the questions is how to address the soaring violence in Afghanistan -- which the Taliban sees as leverage but which Trump has hinted that the insurgents were willing to halt.

Trump flew to Afghanistan on Thursday for a surprise trip to see U.S. troops on the Thanksgiving holiday and dropped the news that talks with the Taliban were back on -- a process the president declared dead in September.

"The Taliban wants to make a deal and we're meeting with them," Trump said.

U.S. officials offered little evidence that full-fledged negotiations had resumed.

But observers said that Trump was at least signaling support for further negotiations after the success last week of a captive swap with the Taliban, who freed two Western professors held hostage for three years.

"U.S. diplomats have been quietly exploring how to get the talks restarted," said Laurel Miller, who served as the U.S. special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan under both Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama.

"Until now it was unclear if those quiet efforts were enough to reverse his public claim that the talks were dead. Now he's publicly validated them," said Miller, now the Asia director at the International Crisis Group.

She nonetheless questioned if fresh talks would be seamless after Trump in September said he had invited and then disinvited a Taliban delegation after the death of one U.S. soldier.

"I think that would give any party that you're negotiating with some pause about how reliable you're going to be in meaning what you say and sticking to it," she said.

Trump, who faces re-election in less than a year, has been eager to end America's longest war and wind down what he sees as a waste of blood and treasure.

A November study by Brown University found that the United States has spent $6.4 trillion on wars globally since the September 11, 2001 attacks which prompted the Afghanistan intervention.

In one of Trump's most startling remarks, he said on Thursday that the Taliban had come around and "want to do a ceasefire" and that "it will probably work out that way."

President Ashraf Ghani -- who, taking a page from other world leaders, profusely praised Trump during their joint appearance -- has long demanded a ceasefire as a precondition for Taliban talks with his internationally recognized government that would come after a U.S. deal with the insurgents.

But the Taliban have consistently refused and kept up a campaign of bloody attacks, meaning a ceasefire would mark a major concession.

A senior U.S. official said that in renewed Taliban talks, "the focus will be on reducing violence" and that negotiations could be expanded to seek a larger agreement.

Veteran U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad reached a draft agreement with the Taliban in September after a year of talks.

Under the agreement, the United States would withdraw troops in return for Taliban pledges not to let Afghanistan be used to stage attacks by al-Qaida or other extremists.

The deal is not believed to have required a ceasefire -- much to the disappointment of Ghani's government.

Scott Worden, director of the Afghanistan and Central Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said that a Taliban deal could take much longer if new elements were added.

"After the talks were called off by President Trump in September, the Taliban expressed, I think, a surprising willingness to sign a deal whenever the U.S. was ready, which shows that they were happy with it," Worden said.

Trump said in Afghanistan that he was ready to reduce U.S. troop numbers "much further" than the draft deal's decrease to 8,600 -- the level before Trump took office and ordered reinforcements.

Trump has been eager for a signature foreign policy victory ahead of the November 2020 U.S. elections, with few signs of breakthroughs in his diplomacy with North Korea or from his pressure campaign against Iran.

Worden, however, said the political calendar could also play out the opposite way, with advisers warning Trump of a repeat of Iraq where the Islamic State group surged after Obama pulled troops.

"Those are both powerful political arguments and I think that they will have to play out over the next many months," he said.

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


9 Comments
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Russia failed to liberate Afghanistan and left defeated.

Nothing new has happened except the hope of talk with the Taliban but they must at least agree to a cease fire.

America has considerable hardware on the ground including fighter planes and fighter copters. Not easy to reduce the troop numbers until the time comes for them to pull out. America will be in Afghanistan for quite some time more.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The Taliban stood up to the great satan and held their ground.

You're pretty schizophrenic about your stance on the US. You constantly criticize the US whilst constantly praising Donny, who literally represents the US. Why is that? You're not trying to sow discord amongst the American population, are you?

Incredible courage and tenacity on their part.

Agreed.

Afghans simply won’t be subdued. Everyone has tried and failed.

Everyone? When did Japan try? When did Argentina try? When did NoKo try?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Trump has built some magnificent buildings, some of them even being financially viable. But he is horrendous with negotiations at this level.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Russia failed to liberate Afghanistan and left defeated.

Yeah, the CIA were delivering portable surface to air missiles to the predecessors of the Taliban so they could shoot down Russian aircraft.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

The business man art of the deal fails when it comes to military conflicts which don't follow the more normal progress.

America has a long history of supplying weapons to groups that in the end are used against them

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well since Trump neutralized North Korea as nuclear threat, this should be easy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Here's a golden opportunity for the Taliban to have their cake and eat it too. Trump is the master blunderer when it comes to foreign policy decisions with dictators around the globe clicking their heels in triumph.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Taliban want to keep IS al Qaeda etc. out anyway. No ceasefire required either? From the Taliban view, what’s not to like? Deal of the century.

From the Afghan govt POV hmmm...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Only a brain dead Neanderthal can think he can make a deal with Stone Age savages.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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