President Trump said Saturday that he had canceled a previously-undisclosed summit at Camp David with Taliban leadership and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after the Taliban took responsibility for an attack earlier this week that killed a U.S. soldier.
The abrupt disclosure appeared to deal a significant blow to the ongoing peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, as Trump said in a string of tweets Saturday evening that he has “called off peace negotiations” and accused the Taliban of perpetrating the attacks to strengthen their negotiating hand.
“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “They didn’t, they only made it worse!”
He continued: “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. How many more decades are they willing to fight?”
The Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bombing Thursday morning that had killed two NATO service members, including one American, in a heavily fortified part of central Kabul. The Pentagon identified the soldier killed as Sgt. 1st Class Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz, a 34-year-old paratrooper from Morovis, Puerto Rico. He is the 16th American troop killed in combat in Afghanistan this year.
The attack, which killed a dozen in all, came just days after the top U.S. negotiator in the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban had announced that he had reached a deal “in principle.” Trump said Saturday that the Taliban’s taking responsibility for the attack was to “build false leverage” in the peace talks.
It is not clear where Trump’s sudden move leaves the larger issue of an end to the longest American war or the return of U.S. forces. The secret summit would have been a step toward ratifying a deal between the United States and the Taliban that had been months in the making.
Trump brought in veteran diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad to settle hostilities with the Taliban insurgency and prepare for an exit of all or most U.S. forces. His work was largely complete and the deal was expected to be ratified shortly.
But Ghani argued behind the scenes that the process cut him out and left the U.S.-backed government in Kabul vulnerable.
Trump seemed untroubled by those concerns but had agreed in principle to leave some forces behind to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for terrorism. The working plan held that about 5,000 U.S. forces would leave after the deal was approved and about 8,500 would stay as a hedge against terrorism.
Trump — who had long advocated for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan before his presidency — has complained that American forces are little more than “policemen” in Afghanistan and said he would finally end the war.
He had reluctantly added forces on advice from the Pentagon and has told confidantes that he felt misled. The proposed reduction under the draft deal would have taken force levels roughly back to where they were when Trump took office, and it is not clear whether his action Saturday changes that plan.
Ghani’s travel to Washington was confirmed by an aide Friday, but the Camp David meeting was not publicly known until Trump’s tweet.
Khalilzad had unexpectedly returned to Qatar on Thursday to meet with Taliban officials after the attack.