By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban on Sunday warned that more American lives would be lost if President Donald Trump canceled peace talks with them, but said they remained open to continuing with the talks.
The group was replying to a series of Trump tweets on Saturday that said a secret meeting with “major leaders” of the Taliban at Camp David had been canceled because of an attack by the insurgents that killed an American soldier.
“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great, great soldiers and 11 other people,” Trump said. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed talks between American and Taliban officials — which have spanned the past year and resulted in a draft agreement to end America’s longest war — have been suspended indefinitely and that U.S. forces would continue to put military pressure on the insurgents.
“If the Taliban don’t behave, if they don’t deliver on the commitments that they’ve made to us now for weeks, and in some cases months, the president is not going to reduce the pressure, we’re not going to reduce our support for the Afghan security forces that have fought so hard there in Afghanistan,” Pompeo said in an interview with CNN.
The Taliban said the response by the U.S. showed a lack of “patience and experience,” and highlighted that neither side had committed to a cease-fire while the agreement was being finalized.
“This will lead to more losses for the U.S.,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement. “This has damaged the U.S. the most, its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world.”
However, Mujahid said the insurgents remained open to continuing talks.
“We will stay committed if the path of negotiation is chosen instead of fighting,” he said.
The comments came after American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Sept. 2 that the U.S. had reached an agreement “in principle” with the Taliban that only needed Trump’s approval to be finalized. Under the agreement, international forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan in phases in return for Taliban promises not to allow terrorists to use the country to launch attacks on the U.S. and its allies.
Many experts have expressed concerns over the deal, of which most details have been kept secret.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News last month that withdrawing too many U.S. troops from Afghanistan could lead to another 9/11. A group of former U.S. ambassadors issued a joint statement on Tuesday, warning the country could descend into “total civil war” if international forces withdrew too soon.
The Afghan government, which has been excluded from the U.S.-Taliban talks, expressed similar concerns after it was shown the draft deal in recent days.
The details of the agreement “were not convincing,” Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told reporters on Sunday. He refused to say what impact Trump’s decision would have on the peace process, but said, “The recent attacks in Afghanistan by the Taliban show that the Taliban are not committed to any peace effort.”
The attack that prompted Trump to cancel talks with the Taliban happened Thursday, when the group detonated a car bomb in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter.
Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, was killed in the attack along with a Romanian soldier and 10 civilians. Ortiz’s death came less than a week after Master Sgt. Michael Riley, 32, and Sgt. James Johnston, 24, were killed by the Taliban in southern Uruzgan province.
“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump tweeted. “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?”