U.S. President Donald Trump made an unannounced Thanksgiving visit to American troops in Afghanistan where he disclosed his administration had resumed peace talks with the Taliban and the insurgent group is willing to observe a cease-fire.
The news comes less than three months after Trump abruptly halted the yearlong U.S.-Taliban dialogue just as the two adversaries had come close to signing an agreement to end the 18-year-old Afghan war, America’s longest overseas military engagement.
“The Taliban wants to make a deal and we’re meeting with them and we’re saying it has to be a cease-fire and they didn’t want to do a cease-fire and now they do want to do a cease-fire,” Trump said during a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Bagram Air Field.
“I believe it probably will work out that way, and we’ll see what happens,” Trump added.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban who have rejected repeated calls for a cease-fire until a foreign troop withdrawal deal is concluded with the U.S.
There are fewer than 14,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan. Speaking during his first trip to the country Thursday, Trump reaffirmed that he hopes to reduce the troop presence to 8,600 but apparently linked further action to a peace pact with the Taliban.
“We’re going to stay until such time as we have a deal or we have total victory, and they want to make a deal very badly,” Trump said.
The draft agreement the U.S.-Taliban negotiations had produced before Trump called off the process on September 7 would have set the stage for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
The Taliban in return had given counterterrorism guarantees and promised to engage in intra-Afghan peace negotiations to permanently end decades of hostilities in the country.
Trump suspended the talks, citing a spate of insurgent attacks in the Afghan capital of Kabul that killed among others an American soldier.
President Ghani said in a statement after his meeting with Trump that the American leader appreciated “the tireless” efforts of Afghan security forces battling the Taliban and militants linked to Islamic State’s regional affiliate.
“Both sides underscored that if the Taliban are sincere in their commitment to reaching a peace deal, they must accept a cease-fire,” Ghani said.
A high-profile prisoner swap this month is being credited for the resumption of U.S.-Taliban contacts in Qatar, the traditional host of the Afghan peace talks. The prisoner deal secured freedom for an American and an Australian professor who had been held hostage by the Taliban since 2016. In return, the Afghan government released three high-ranking insurgent leaders.
The Afghan war is estimated to have killed more than 150,000 people, including civilians, insurgents, local and foreign troops, since the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan 18 years ago to oust the Taliban from power for sheltering al-Qaida leaders accused of plotting the September 2001 terrorist strikes on America.
The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members and has already cost Washington nearly $1 trillion.