U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday that his administration was conducting “very strong” peace negotiations in Afghanistan but that he was not sure whether they would be successful.
Trump made the remarks during a Thanksgiving teleconference call with U.S. troops stationed in the war-ravaged country. He also hinted he might visit Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been engaged since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
“We’re in very strong negotiations in Afghanistan right now, which a lot of people don’t know that. This might be the first, but we are in very, very strong negotiations in Afghanistan. … We’ll see what happens. We are talking about peace and we’ll see if that happens,” the president said.
Trump was apparently referring to the first direct talks U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad recently opened with the Taliban, who are waging a deadly insurgency against the Washington-backed Afghan government.
“We have negotiations going on. I don’t know that they are going to be successful, probably they’re not. Who knows? They might be, they might not be. … Maybe they are going to be successful, maybe they’re not going to be, but we have negotiations going on right now in Afghanistan,” Trump said.
The U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and ousted the Taliban from power for harboring al-Qaida leaders blamed for plotting the 9/11 attacks. The Afghan military mission has cost Washington nearly $1 trillion, while more than 2,400 American soldiers have died.
U.S. commanders-in-chief have since routinely paid unannounced visits to troops in the country and other war zones around the world. Trump has not visited Afghanistan since taking office almost two years ago. He told American troops Thursday, “Maybe I’ll even see you over there. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Vice President Mike Pence visited troops last December at the U.S.-run Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.
About 14,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan to train and advise Afghan security forces in their battle against the Taliban and conduct separate operations against terrorist groups, including Islamic State.
Khalilzad said, after last week’s meetings with Taliban representatives in Qatar, his discussions were aimed at encouraging insurgents to engage in an intra-Afghan process to find a political solution to the prolonged war.
Without sharing much detail, the U.S. envoy noted he was “cautiously optimistic” about the talks, and so did the Taliban.
The Taliban maintain they are seeking a schedule for withdrawal of all U.S.-led foreign forces from the country before engaging in intra-Afghan talks.