Trump Calls Off Afghanistan Peace Talks

Sep 8, 2019
Originally published on September 8, 2019 4:20 pm
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

President Trump tweeted last night that he is canceling peace negotiations with the Taliban. He revealed details of a planned secret meeting at Camp David between U.S. officials, the Afghan government and the Taliban that was supposed to take place this weekend. The stated reason for the cancellation - a suicide attack that killed multiple people, including a U.S. soldier on Thursday. Trump wrote, what kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? Many things about this announcement are surprising.

Joining us now from Islamabad is NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, who is travelling around the region with the head of Central Command Four-Star General Kenneth Frank McKenzie. Welcome.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've known for a while that a deal with the Taliban may have been close, but this was an unorthodox way of announcing it, to say the least. It is surprising that the peace deal was going to be cemented on U.S. soil. What has been the reaction?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, from the Taliban, the reaction was they learned about it from media reports. They had no idea this was going to happen. And so they kind of all assembled. They were going to enter Taliban meetings to decide a response. It took a few hours. And they basically say the Americans will pay for this. So that's been their reaction. The Afghan government, meanwhile, applauded what President Trump had to say about the cancellation and the call for a cease-fire. And that's kind of where we are now. We don't have a sense of the way ahead at this point.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been doing the rounds on cable this morning. And here's what he said to Jake Tapper on CNN when asked about the timing and location of this secret meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

MIKE POMPEO: If the Taliban don't behave, if they don't deliver on the commitments that they've made to us now for weeks and, in some cases, months, president of the United States is not going to reduce the pressure. We're not going to reduce our support for the Afghan security forces that have fought so hard there in Afghanistan.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's essentially saying there that the ends would've justified the means. How do you expect that that will go over with the different players in Afghanistan now?

BOWMAN: Well, from what we've been hearing, the American military will likely increase strikes and attacks on Taliban locations, including leaders. And the Taliban could very well respond in kind, going after, let's say, soft targets, civilian targets and so forth. So that's going to be a real concern going forward. And what we've been hearing for months now is that the Taliban - the political leadership is not unified. There are differences of opinion on negotiating table that some Taliban or more, let's say, conservative and not really willing to have a deal - you also have the military commanders in Afghanistan - the Taliban military commanders who may not agree to a deal. So they could continue fighting. That's been the problem all along. The Taliban is a fragmented organization. So we'll likely see more Taliban attacks and more American attacks on the Taliban. That's the way ahead, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Over the past few months, as you mentioned, the Taliban has been launching multiple suicide attacks, including an especially horrific one on a wedding. They have used this as leverage throughout the negotiating process. So I guess the question is, was there something different about this attack that might've prompted this response from the president?

BOWMAN: I think a couple of things, Lulu. I think, first of all, they expected a few days after this horrific attack - this attack that killed 12 people, including an American soldier from Puerto Rico - that, you know, they expected to have talks. And the American soldier was killed. I think that was part of it. And that's what the - President Trump mentioned in his tweet. So that was a big part of this, I think - that the American soldier was killed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman from Islamabad, thank you very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.