Africa and Middle EastOngoing

Negotiations with the Taliban Collapse as Trump Cancels Secret Meeting at Camp David

After over a year of painstaking negotiations, a breakdown in talks with Taliban leaders will likely lead to a prolongation of America’s longest war.

US Soldier in Afghanistan
US Soldier in Afghanistan

Donald Trump announced in three short Twitter posts that he had canceled a secret meeting that was to be held at Camp David on Sunday between his administration and senior Taliban leaders. This move could potentially upend over a year of difficult negotiations in a bid to end America’s longest war.

A secret meeting with Taliban leaders

The move was shocking, not just for Trump’s abrupt cancellation of the meeting, but the idea of Taliban leaders being invited to the president’s retreat just days before the anniversary of the September 11th attacks – the event that launched the US into the Afghan conflict. The United States has been embroiled in conflict in Afghanistan against Taliban insurgents for the last 18 years.

A Camp David summit with Taliban leaders would be nothing short of the type of international spectacle that Donald Trump has already shown a penchant for – similar to his high-profile talks with the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The meeting had been arranged before a Taliban suicide-bomber killed an American soldier and 11 civilians in an attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul on September 5th. President Trump cited this attack as his motivation for canceling the planned meeting tweeting, “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”

“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,” he added.

The deal to end American engagement in Afghanistan

News of the abandoned Camp David meeting with Taliban leaders comes after the Trump administration’s senior negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that the government had reached a preliminary deal ‘in principle’ with the insurgents after nine agonizing rounds of negotiations that would result in the slow withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

According to Khalilzad, the agreement would see American troops in the area reduced over the next year or more, with 5,400 of the 14,000 troops currently in Afghanistan leaving within the next four and a half months.

The agreement had been met with rising criticism as it was not clear what concessions would be made by the Taliban in return for the withdrawal of American troops. Reportedly, the deal included vague promises by the Taliban to not to shelter foreign militants and terrorists such as al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and to reduce violence in the vicinity of American military bases. Details of the agreement dashed hopes that there would be a ceasefire and offered little protection to Afghan forces which have suffered greatly under the conflict.

The abandonment of the deal is likely met with relief from Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, who was sidelined during US negotiations and voiced his concerns over the deal. He is now able to concentrate on the country’s upcoming presidential elections. Elections which the Taliban had hoped would be called off.

A harsh reality unchanged

An attempt to use these negotiations as leverage with the Taliban is likely to backfire as they already lack trust in American government and institutions. In response to Trump’s move, the Taliban has threatened a surge in violence stating that Trump’s about-face would “lead to more losses to the US”.

For Trump, who has often spoken boastfully about America’s power, ending the bloody conflict would fulfill a campaign promise to disengage the United States from the seemingly endless war. Trump’s own team has been divided on foreign policy regarding Afghanistan – with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushing for negotiations to end the conflict and National Security Advisor John R. Bolton warning the president that a deal with the Taliban would be akin to ‘getting in bed with killers swathed in American blood.’

Afghanistan is bracing for an escalation in violence as both sides attempt to show they are unfazed by the breakdown of talks between the US and Taliban leaders. What is even more troubling is that even after the dust of Trump’s tweets settles, the reality on the ground remains unchanged – the suicide bombings and attacks on civilians are likely to continue, Afghan troops will endure more losses, the Taliban will continue to gain ground and American troops are still far from achieving lasting peace in the region.

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