Breaking News Emails
President Donald Trump said Saturday that he was calling off "peace negotiations" with Taliban leadership after a U.S. service member was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Trump tweeted that he was scheduled to hold a secret meeting at Camp David Sunday with Taliban leadership and, separately, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The United States has been working on a deal with the group that harbored 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden to pull troops out of Afghanistan and end the nation's longest war.
The meeting at Camp David would have come just days before the 18th anniversary of 9/11.
The attack in Kabul on Thursday, for which the Taliban took credit, killed 12 and injured 42.
"I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations," Trump tweeted. "What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?"
It was just one of a number of attacks by the group in the past week, including attempts to take control of two Afghan cities, which reinforced fears in the country about what would happen if the U.S. withdraws.
"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," Trump tweeted.
Neither the White House nor the State Department were immediately available for comment.
The group controls or heavily influences about half the country, and some U.S. officials fear it could invade the other regions.
Trump's tweets came as the U.S. and the Taliban had appeared poised to clinch an unprecedented agreement that would open the door to a phased withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and launch peace talks between the militants and the Kabul government.
The administration has signaled over the past week that an agreement is imminent, and officials had been planning how to publicly unveil the deal. U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has said that the two sides had reached an agreement “in principle” and that it would be up to Trump to approve it.
The Taliban themselves were taken by surprise, a senior Taliban leader in Afghanistan told NBC News, claiming that they had believed an official announcement of the accord may have been imminent.
"It not only shocked us it made us realize the people we were talking with were not sincere in peace talks,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to comment on negotiations.
The Taliban released an official statement Sunday on the failed talks, which said it had finalized an agreement with the U.S. negotiation team before Trump's announcement.
"Such a reaction towards a single attack just before the signing of an agreement displays lack of composure and experience," the statement said. "This even as attacks by the US and their domestic supporters prior martyred hundreds of Afghans and destroyed their assets."
The Taliban said that Trump's tweet will damage America's reputation because it will "unmask its anti-peace policy to the world" and "present its political interactions as erratic."
"We called for dialogue twenty years earlier and maintain the same stance today and believe America shall return to this position also," the statement continued. "Our previous eighteen-year resistance should have proven to America that we will accept nothing less than the complete end of occupation and allowing Afghans to decide their own fate."
Before the president’s surprising comments, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been scheduled to appear on political talk shows Sunday, and the Afghan president was expected to travel to Washington in the next few days.
Ghani's government did not directly respond to Trump's announcement, saying in a statement that "we have always said that a real peace is possible only when the Taliban stop killing Afghans, accept a ceasefire and start direct negotiations with the Afghan government" on the country's future — talks that were meant to quickly follow a U.S.-Taliban deal.
"The government of Afghanistan appreciates the sincere efforts of its allies in peace and is committed to working together with the United States and other allies in the future to bring a sustainable peace," said presidential spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi.
Trump’s tweets will also come as a shock to European allies and other governments, including Pakistan and Qatar, that have sought to support the talks.
Norway has already begun preparations for the planned peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, according to foreign diplomats and U.S. officials briefed on the negotiations.
In conversations with NBC News, U.S. officials, foreign diplomats briefed on the discussions, Afghan officials and Taliban representatives had given no indication in recent days that the Trump administration had plans to invite the group to Camp David for a meeting with the president.
Negotiations recently hit a snag over American insistence that the Taliban pledge not to allow areas under its control to be used by global terrorists. The Taliban subsequently stepped up its campaign of violence.
Afghan officials and former U.S. officials also told NBC News last week that Trump’s envoy clashed with the Afghan government over the proposed deal.
After being briefed on the deal in Kabul, Ghani's government responded "badly" and the discussions were marked by "raging arguments," said one foreign diplomat familiar with the talks.
The government, which has long been wary of the U.S.-Taliban talks and was never invited to take part, worries that American troops could be withdrawn before a peace agreement is firmly in place and that Washington may have made too many concessions to their adversaries, foreign diplomats and Afghan officials said.
About 2,400 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan. There are still about 14,000 U.S. troops in the nation. The U.S. was negotiating with Taliban leaders to withdraw 5,000 troops initially.