Trump in first visit to Afghanistan as Taliban talks restart
President Donald Trump has made his first trip to Afghanistan during a surprise Thanksgiving visit where he announced peace talks with the Taliban have restarted.
He spent about two-and-a-half hours on the ground at Bagram Airfield where he thanked US troops, served them turkey and sat down for a meal, as well as meeting President Ashraf Ghani.
Mr Trump said he believed the militants wanted an agreement.
The US commander-in-chief told about 500 troops in a dining hall: “The Taliban wants to make a deal. We’ll see if they want to make a deal. It’s got to be a real deal. But we’ll see, but they want to make a deal.
“And they only want to make a deal because you’re doing a great job. That’s the only reason they want to make a deal.”
More than two months ago, he abruptly broke off formal talks with the insurgents following nine rounds of negotiations after a bombing in Kabul killed 12 people, including a US soldier.
Mr Trump said at the time that Taliban leaders were to travel to the US for secret peace talks, but after the atrocity he called off the meetings and cancelled the negotiations.
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He said of the Taliban on Thursday: “Since then we’ve hit them so hard.”
When asked by reporters whether the talks had restarted, Mr Trump said “yes” without giving details.
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Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, added that “hopefully they will be successful and lead to Afghan-to-Afghan dialogue in the near future”.
Afghan presidential elections were held in September but the results have not yet been released.
Mr Ghani tweeted about Mr Trump’s visit, saying: “In our bilateral meeting, we discussed the important progress we have jointly made in our military efforts in the battlefield, including crushing the Daesh (Islamic State) in eastern Afghanistan.
“President Trump appreciated the tireless efforts of the Afghan security forces in this fight.”
On Wednesday General Milley said the prospects for successfully ending the 18-year war were the highest he had seen.
He said: “I think the chances of a positive outcome through negotiations is higher than I have seen, and I’ve been deeply involved in Afghanistan for 18 years.
“With a bit of luck, we’ll have successful negotiations in the near term, not too distant future.”
America’s conflict in Afghanistan is the longest in US history. It started in 2001 when the 11 September terror attacks led to its troops invading the country the following month.
They overthrew the ruling Taliban regime which had sheltered al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his fighters.
About 12,000 US forces remain in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist local forces under a NATO mission, and to carry out counter-terrorism operations.
Mr Trump said in the summer he aimed to cut that figure, and last month the top US general in Afghanistan, Austin Miller, said the total number of troops there had fallen by around 2,000 in a year.
The war has claimed 147,000 lives, including about 40,000 civilians, 60,000 Afghan security forces and 3,500 coalition troops – about 2,400 of them Americans, according to a study from Brown University.
Mr Trump appeared in good spirits as he was escorted around the base by heavily armed soldiers.
At the airfield, he said Islamic State had been “severely hit”, including the death of its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi who killed himself last month in an American special forces raid.
Mr Trump said: “We’ve had tremendous success in the last few months with our military. ISIS has been very badly hit, very severely hit. We had al Baghdadi down in a different part of the world.
“We took him out. He was the father of ISIS. The founder, and he was trying to rebuild it. That didn’t work out too well for him.”
The president and First Lady Melania Trump made a similar trip last year to Iraq on Christmas night – their first to an active conflict zone. Vice President Mike Pence also visited troops in Iraq this week.