WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the U.S. has withdrawn its special envoy to peace talks in Afghanistan after President Donald Trump scuttled plans for negotiations with the Taliban and Afghan government at Camp David Sunday.
And Pompeo warned that things “are about to get worse” for the Taliban in the wake of an attack that killed a U.S. service member last week.
During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Pompeo said that talks are “absolutely” off between the parties “for the time being” after Trump canceled a planned secret summit on Saturday.
In a series of tweets, the president specifically blamed the decision to scrap a planned meeting at Camp David on a recent car bomb attack in Afghanistan, which the Taliban took credit for and killed a U.S. service member.
“We had been working on this meeting for a little while," Pompeo said. But the attack, "was something President Trump could never stand for and we informed both President [Ashraf] Ghani and our Taliban interlocutors that these meetings were not going to take place,” he said.
Pompeo said that American forces have killed over 1,000 Taliban in the last ten days and that “while this is not a war of attrition, I want the American people to know that President Trump is taking it to the Taliban.”
And he warned that the recent attack and the lack of negotiations would prove damaging to the Taliban.
“If you’re the Taliban, conditions have been worsening and are about to get worse,” he said.
“We are going to make sure everyone in the region understands that America will always protect its national security interests. I’ll leave to the Department of Defense to talk about specifics but no one should underestimate President Trump’s commitment.”
During his interview, Pompeo repeatedly pointed to the car bomb attack as the reason for the cancellation of the planned peace talks and denied that any hesitation by the Afghan government prompted the decision instead.
A senior Taliban leader in Afghanistan told NBC News that the group was surprised by the cancelation.
The scuttled meeting had been part of the Trump administration’s attempts to negotiate a peace deal in Afghanistan that could wind down America’s presence in the country.
American troops have been a constant presence in Afghanistan since the weeks after the 9/11 attacks — about 2,400 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan and 14,000 American troops remain in the country.
But those negotiations have been rocky.
Former U.S. diplomats warned earlier this month that withdrawing American troops before the Taliban and the Afghan government reached a peace deal could lead to “a return to the total civil war that consumed Afghanistan.”
And NBC News reported last week that U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad clashed with Afghan government officials over a proposed deal to withdraw troops in order to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Pompeo said Sunday that Khalilzad was recalled back to America in response to the scuttled talks.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told "Meet the Press" that he believes the situation in Afghanistan would "get worse" if American troops pulled out and raised concerns about negotiating with the Taliban.
"Backing away from where we were, just dealing with the Taliban, was the right thing to do. Leaving troops there, for now, is the right thing to do," Blunt said. "The Taliban, as the president pointed out yesterday, even in the middle of a negotiation, has to brag about killing an American soldier. If we leave there, that becomes the same haven it was."