Official: US still wants Afghan peace talks despite Trump remarks
KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States remains committed to forging peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the deputy secretary of state said Tuesday, despite contrary comments made by President Donald Trump following an escalation of attacks in Kabul.
John J. Sullivan said during a visit to the Afghan capital that Washington’s Afghanistan policy, which aims to use military might to force insurgents to the negotiating table, has not changed and isn’t expected to do so.
Sullivan said that Trump’s statement — that he didn’t foresee the possibility of talks with the Taliban — was prompted by recent bloodshed in Afghanistan and “an indication that at least some members of the Taliban are not interested in having a discussion about a peaceful future for Afghanistan.”
“That doesn’t change the long-range strategy of our policy, which is to be firm militarily to convince the Taliban, or significant elements of the Taliban, that there isn’t a military solution to the security situation here,” he said.
Trump cast doubt on negotiations on Monday, the same day a group of Taliban militants attempted to storm a military base in Kabul, killing 11 Afghan soldiers. It was the latest in a string of attacks claimed by the Taliban and the Islamic State.
“We don’t want to talk to the Taliban,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish, what nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it.”
On Saturday, an ambulance packed with explosives was detonated in central Kabul, killing more than 100, in one of the deadliest attacks of the war. A week before that attack, six Taliban gunmen stormed the city’s Intercontinental Hotel, where they battled security forces for more than 12 hours and killed at least 22 people, including four Americans.
“It’s a whole different fight over there. They’re killing people left and right. Innocent people are being killed left and right,” Trump said. “I don’t see any talking taking place.”
More American troops have been sent to Afghanistan in recent months and the number of U.S. airstrikes in the country has skyrocketed under Trump’s new strategy, which military officials have said is aimed at pushing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
The Taliban on Tuesday criticized Trump’s comments, saying Afghanistan “has a long and rich history of bringing arrogant invaders to their senses.”
“Donald Trump and his war-mongering supporters must understand that every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgent group said in a statement. “If you insist upon war, our Mujahid nation will not welcome you with roses.”
Sullivan said that one aim of his visit, during which he met with President Ashraf Ghani, was to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the Afghan government.
Sullivan also met with Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and U.S. troops at NATO’s Resolute Support headquarters.
“Thank you for all you do,” Sullivan told the group of servicemembers Tuesday morning. “You know better than I, how important this mission is. It’s a great honor for me to be here in person and thank you.”