A peace agreement between the United States and the radical Islamic Taliban was on the verge of being facilitated. Until President Trump abruptly cancelled the negotiations in the early morning hours.
Trump confirmed that a meeting Taliban delegates, as well as with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had been scheduled in Camp David this Sunday. Due to the most recent lethal attacks in the Afghan capital Kabul, in which a US soldier was killed, he cancelled the meeting with Ghani and also ceased peace negotiations with the Taliban. Whether this will be the end of any kind of negotiations cannot be confirmed at this stage.
The Taliban were surprised by Trump’s decision. Spokesman Sabihullah Mujahid stated he could not comment on Trump’s statement for the time being, nor whether the Taliban were indeed supposed to meet Trump in Camp David. The latter was “a political issue”, Mujahid opined.
The United States and the Taliban had been in talks about a political solution in the 18-year long-lasting conflict in Afghanistan, which began in 2001 when the United States initiated the War against Terror. US chief negotiator Khalilzad stated on Monday that both parties had agreed “in principle”. However, the agreement was only definitive if President Trump agreed to it. The latter had been anticipated for the upcoming days.
The negotiations focused on U.S. troop withdrawals and, most importantly, a Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan would not return to its previous ways of being a safe haven for terrorists – as it had been when the Taliban offered shelter for Al Kaida and Osama bin Laden. A total of five US military bases were supposed to be vacated, resulting in a return of about 5,000 US soldiers. Insufficient for the Taliban, it now appears. Subsequently, intra-Afghan peace talks were supposed to be facilitated. So far, the Taliban refused to speak with the government in Kabul, which they regard as a “puppet” of the West.
Meanwhile, President Trump said leading Taliban officials and Ghani were supposed to arrive in the US on Saturday night to meet him in Camp David. Unfortunately, “to strengthen their bargaining position,” the Taliban committed an attack in Kabul killing one US soldier and eleven others. He had therefore cancelled the meeting immediately – and also cancelled the peace negotiations. “If they cannot arrange a cease-fire during these very important peace talks, they probably will not have the power to negotiate a meaningful deal anyway,” Trump twittered.
It is Trump’s response to intensified attacks in several provinces across the country. Taliban raided the strategically important provincial capital Kunduz in northern Afghanistan and attacked positions of the Afghan armed forces in numerous other regions. On Thursday then at least sixteen people were killed in Kabul and the eastern province of Logar, including two NATO soldiers and the aforementioned US serviceman. It was part of five large-scale attacks within five days, conducted by the Taliban.
Nonetheless, Trump’s main concern has been the upcoming election. Bringing the troops home could have been a significant asset during his campaign. Yet, leaving the country without an agreement could easily result in a return of an even more unstable Afghanistan, as the Afghan armed forces are far from being able to provide security in the country unilaterally.
Afghanistan could once again become the scene of endless power struggles between corrupt governments and terrorist organizations. Most crucially: a state that provides shelter for terrorists, able to plan and execute attacks in the west. In a year of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, it would equate to the capitulation to international terrorism.