Trump cancels peace talks with Afghan and Taliban leaders after bomb attack in Kabul

Ben Farmer
President Donald Trump called off the planned meeting at Camp David after a Taliban bomb attack left 11 dead - AP
President Donald Trump called off the planned meeting at Camp David after a Taliban bomb attack left 11 dead - AP

Donald Trump called off negotiations with the Taliban in a stunning reversal that reportedly followed the group's refusal to travel to the United States to sign a peace accord, and amid deep divisions over its contents.

The United States president on Sunday halted more than a year of talks to find an agreement allowing America to end its longest conflict.

In a series of tweets, Mr Trump also said he had cancelled a previously undisclosed meeting with the Taliban's "major leaders" at the presidential country retreat, Camp David, in Maryland.

Taliban leaders, according to local media, had earlier informed Mr Trump that they would not visit the United States. That would give the impression of a surrender, they told Arab News.

Mr Trump's decision was made after the president had grown frustrated with the peace negotiations and Mr Bolton, reminded him of the risks of signing a flawed deal, Bloomberg reported.

Mr Trump said talks had been stopped after the Taliban claimed a Kabul bomb attack that killed an American soldier and 10 other people last week.

“ What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” he said.

“ If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway.”

The announcement in the early hours of Sunday triggered an emergency meeting of Taliban envoys in Doha. "Trump's tweets do not clarify if the deal has been cancelled, he has just called-off the talks at this stage," one Taliban source told Reuters.

US and Taliban envoys had agreed a deal in principle last week that would have started a troops withdrawal to end America's longest ever war.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Mr Trump's lead negotiatior, had said 5,000 US troops would withdraw in the coming months, while the Taliban would agree to hold talks with the Kabul government. The deal was also said to include Taliban assurances they would not allow al-Qaeda or other groups to use Afghan soil.

Yet the Taliban had also refused a ceasefire and opinion against the offer appeared to harden in Kabul and Washington last week, as violence escalated with a series of bomb attacks and assaults on provincial capitals. Former US ambassadors to Kabul warned last week that a hasty withdrawal risked undermining the Afghan government's negotiation stance and plunging the country into civil war.

The Afghan government said Mr Trump's reversal showed Washington was listening to its concerns. “We have consistently stressed that genuine peace is possible when the Taliban stop the killing of Afghans, embrace an inclusive ceasefire, and enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government,” a spokesman said.

Mr Trump's anger at the death of the US soldier may have been a pretext to get out of a deal he felt was not working, said  Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based The Wilson Centre.

“ He found [a pretext], and, in announcing it, sought to put the Taliban on the back foot to improve the US government bargaining position in potential future negotiations,” he said.

Laurel Miller,   Asia director for International Crisis Group, said it was difficult to see last Thursday's attack being the sole reason for Mr Trump's reversal. She said:  "This could be a blow to the   credibility of the US commitment to the peace process. Hopefully it can   be brought back on track because there's no better alternative."