The top U.S. military officer says it’s too early to talk about a full American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, as peace talks with the Taliban appear to be near a final agreement. (Aug. 28) AP, AP
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is facing backlash after announcing he planned to hold a secret meeting with the Taliban at Camp David this weekend but canceled it over attacks overseas that left 12 dead, including one American.
Republican and Democratic leaders sharply criticized the president over two main concerns: bringing members of the Taliban to the U.S.—specifically to Camp David, a presidential retreat for presidents used for administrations, and the timing of the meeting — just days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The Trump administration and leaders of the Taliban, an extremist Islamic organization that controls about half of Afghanistan, have been in peace talks for months and closing in on a possible deal that would remove about 5,000 American troops from five bases over the next five months if the Taliban fulfills promises to reduce violence and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorists.
The president revealed plans to host Taliban leaders on Twitter Saturday evening, explaining that it was canceled and all peace talks were off after the group claimed responsibility for a car bomb this week that killed an American and 11 others.
But the news that a meeting was planned drew criticism as skeptics have said the Taliban, itself a militant Islamic group that harbored Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda —which carried out the 9/11 attacks — cannot be trusted. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle vented their frustrations.
Rep. Liz Cheney, one of most powerful House Republicans whose father was vice president during the 9/11 attacks, said “no member of the Taliban should set foot” at Camp David.
“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” said Cheney, R-Wyoming, on Sunday. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever. The Taliban still harbors al Qaeda.”
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran who flew missions throughout the Middle East — including Afghanistan, said members of the group should “NEVER” be allowed in the U.S.
“Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn’t renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country,” tweeted Kinzinger, R-Ill. “NEVER. Full stop.”
Democrats also piled on. After Trump’s announcement, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D- Calif., wrote on Twitter: “You brought the Taliban to the United States the week of September 11?”
Rep. Justin Amash, who recently switched from the Republican party to become an independent, also blasted the move.
“How about we end the war without inviting the Taliban to dinner on the week of 9/11?” he wrote on Twitter.
Others pointed to posts the president made while his predecessor, Barack Obama, was in the White House and working to negotiate a peace deal in Afghanistan.
“While @BarackObama is slashing the military, he is also negotiating with our sworn enemy the Taliban–who facilitated 9/11,” Trump wrote in 2012.
But the controversial meeting and its cancelation have boosted uncertainty over Trump’s hopes to fulfill a campaign promise in ending America’s longest war and bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the peace talks were dead “for now” and defended Trump’s now aborted meeting.
“The Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country,” Pompeo said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ one in a string of television interviews he conducted Sunday. “It made no sense for the Taliban to be rewarded for that kind of bad behavior.”
After the 9/11 attacks, U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban and tried to foster democracy in the war-torn country. But remnants of the extremist group have been fighting the government ever since, and the Taliban now controls about half the country again.
President Donald Trump told Cabinet members the Islamic State and Taliban should fight each other instead of having the U.S. involved. USA TODAY
More than 2,400 American soldiers have been killed in the war, according to the most recent figures from the Pentagon. There are currently about 22,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan now, 14,000 of them Americans.
Trump’s hope for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces has drawn opposition from within his own administration, including military leaders who want a more phased approach. Critics fear a premature withdrawal would encourage the Taliban to re-take control of the country.
Contributing: David Jackson, Deirdre Shesgreen and John Fritze
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