President Trump appeared to pull the plug Monday on the possibility of peace with the Taliban, declaring talks with the militant group “dead” and leaving Afghan leaders in the dark on just what happens next.
Speaking on the White House lawn before departing for a political rally in North Carolina, Trump said last week’s Taliban-claimed bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, drove him to cancel a covert meeting at the presidential Camp David retreat in Maryland that was planned for Sunday.
The high stakes sit-down — which was set to take place just four days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — would have involved Taliban leaders and representatives of the Afghan government as part of a more than year-long effort to hash out an armistice in the war-torn region.
But Trump said he’s now backing off completely in light of the Kabul attack, which killed a U.S. service member and wounded several people.
“They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead,” the president said of peace talks with the Taliban, whose protection of Al Qaeda terrorists after the 9/11 attacks prompted the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and the longest war in American history.
Trump also appeared to back off the prospect of pulling the remaining U.S. forces out of the country, saying, “We’d like to get out, but we’ll get out at the right time.”
Some 13,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan despite Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to bring all of them back.
One element of the since-canceled talks with the Taliban was for the U.S. to significantly downsize its troop presence in Afghanistan. It was unclear Monday where those plans stood.
In a tweet before his White House lawn comments, Trump sent a seemingly conflicting message: “We have been serving as policemen in Afghanistan, and that was not meant to be the job of our Great Soldiers, the finest on earth.”
He added without elaboration, “Over the last four days, we have been hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years.”
The president announced the cancellation of the confidential Camp David meeting at the 11th hour over Twitter, prompting all sides to point fingers at each other over who was to blame.
Shortly after the development, the Taliban vowed to continue its armed fight against “foreign occupation," heightening fears of a new wave of violence in Afghanistan.
Trump’s waffling took some observers by surprise, as nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-claimed attacks without the president taking any particular action.
Others questioned the optics of inviting the Taliban to Camp David the same week that the U.S. honors the victims of 9/11.
“What was Trump thinking to invite the Taliban allies of Al Qaeda to Camp David just days before the 9/11 anniversary? Or WAS he thinking?” tweeted Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who’s launching a long-shot primary challenge against Trump in 2020.
“Americans’ safety and security demands a steady hand and a level head in the White House — not foreign policy by erratic tweets.”