On Canceling Afghan Peace Talks

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 9, 2019

Donald Trump has called off peace initiatives with the Taliban, reportedly after getting confirmation with the group that it had taken responsibility that ended in the death of a U.S. soldier.

Calling off a previously secret meeting with Taliban leadership and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David puts a significant hole in any hope for an agreement after all these years of fighting, and several months of trying to put a peace initiative together.

Trump’s reasoning: The Taliban ought not be on the battlefield looking to bolster their negotiating position.

From where I monitor such things, the Taliban is not quite as organized as, say, the U.S. Army, and there always seem elements that act out on their own. Besides, the Taliban has committed itself to be the bad guys, even if they get back into Afghan officialdom.

The next thing Trump is going to discover is that North Korean Kin Jung Un has been launching tens of missiles that could reach U.S. bases in Korean and Japan, and that are seen as terrorizing to the two U.S. allies there. But that hasn’t stopped him from exchanging “beautiful” letters with North Korea in lieu of actual effective diplomacy.

Who knows, if Trump keeps up with this new violence-tracking, he might learn that Iranian-leaning Arab fighters are still attacking Israel.

The whole idea of going in and negotiating seriously with enemy groups, even combative groups, is to get beyond the daily violence and to get at the base issues that are driving all parties. That’s what Trump said he was doing in the Middle East, and apparently what he thinks he can bring off with a North Korea that seems to be laughing in his face, and with Taliban leaders who don’t even want to deign to talk with regular Afghans.

Of course, Trump can’t even effectively negotiate with Congress over a border wall, and has resorted to secreting monies away from the military under a made-up emergency executive powers law.

I doubt that Trump was a very effective business negotiator either. He just wants to win too much to even get into the minds of those with whom he disagrees.

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” Trump tweeted about the Taliban over the weekend. “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 answer to that is lots of decades, like forever. That by itself is something that does not translate to Trump.

Following the news, Ghani’s spokesman said Sunday that his government appreciated Trump’s announcement and that the cancellation of the bilateral talks should open the way for direct talks between Afghan officials and the insurgents.

“The Taliban must first stop the killing of Afghans and then it should talk directly to the Afghan government,” Ghani’s office said in a separate statement.

The canceled summit would have taken place just ahead of the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

In his tweets, Trump was referencing a car bombing last Thursday that 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 service member 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.” It was part of a surge of Taliban violence in recent days in Kabul and elsewhere, leaving scores of people dead.

The deal with the Taliban is reported to have included the withdrawal of more than 5,000 U.S. troops, a third, in exchange for the Taliban agreeing to sever ties with al-Qaeda and to continue its fight against the Islamic State. The deal also included a Taliban commitment to begin inter-Afghan talks with the Ghani government of a cease-fire.

The initial U.S. drawdown was to occur over a 135-day period, during which the United States and the Afghan government could monitor Taliban behavior and gauge the militant group’s commitment to the deal.

As The Washington Post reported, the Camp David meeting would have allowed Trump not only to claim credit for the negotiations, but also to put the president in place as the godfather of the actual signing of the document and the beginning of talks among the Afghans themselves.

Trump — who had long advocated for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan before he took office — has complained that American forces are little more than “policemen” in Afghanistan and has said that he would finally end the war.

What remains unclear is why Trump waited until late Saturday — the day before the meeting at Camp David was to begin — to cancel talks over an attack the Taliban was clearly responsible for that was then three days old.



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