WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s weekend tweet canceling secret meetings at Camp David with the Taliban and Afghan leaders just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is the latest example of a commander in chief willing to take a big risk in pursuit of a foreign policy victory only to see it dashed.

What had seemed like an imminent deal to end the war has unraveled, with Trump and the Taliban blaming each other for the collapse of nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

The insurgents are now promising more bloodshed. The Afghan government remains mostly on the sidelines of the U.S. effort to end America’s longest war. And as Trump’s re-election campaign heats up, his quest to withdraw the remaining 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan remains unfulfilled — so far.

Trump said he axed the Camp David meetings and called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence. But the deal started unraveling days earlier after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the U.S. before a deal was actually signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.

Trump’s secret plan for high-level meetings at the presidential retreat in Maryland resembled other bold, unorthodox foreign policy initiatives — with North Korea, China and Iran — that the president has pursued that have yet to bear fruit.

“When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that’s not going to work,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who appeared Sunday on five TV news shows.

Trump’s three high-profile meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un — including the president’s recent brief footsteps onto North Korean soil — prompted deep unease from many quarters, including his conservative base in Congress.

And while the meetings produced the ready-for-television visuals that Trump is known to relish, negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled for months with no tangible progress in getting the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.

Trump’s offers to hold talks with the Iranian leadership have similarly met with no result and Iran has moved ahead with actions that violate the 2015 nuclear deal that the president withdrew from last year.

With China, Trump has vigorously pursued a trade war, imposing billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese imports that have yet to force a retreat by Beijing. So far, the discussions have unsettled financial markets and have resulted in retaliatory steps by both Beijing and Washington.

Pompeo defended Trump’s foreign policy, depicting it as tough diplomacy, rather than naivete or inexperience.

“He walked away in Hanoi from the North Koreans where they wouldn’t do a deal that made sense for America,” Pompeo said. “He’ll do that with the Iranians. When the Chinese moved away from the trade agreement that they had promised us they would make, he broke up those conversations, too.”

Democrats said Trump’s decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence that he was moving too quickly to get one. Far from guaranteeing a cease-fire, the deal only included Taliban commitments to reduce violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the talks were ill-conceived from the start because they haven’t yet involved the Afghan government.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government its sees as illegitimate and a puppet of the West so the Trump administration tried another approach, negotiating with the Taliban first to get a deal that would lead to Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government.

“It’s another example of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, which is a high-wire act that ultimately is focused on Trump as a persona but not in the strategic, methodical effort of creating peace,” Menendez said.

Criticism of the Camp David plan was not limited to Democrats or “Never Trump” Republicans.

“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,” tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”

A U.S. official familiar with the Taliban negotiations said the “very closely held” idea of a Camp David meeting was first discussed up to a week and a half ago when Trump huddled with his national security team and other top advisers to talk about Afghanistan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Some administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, did not back the agreement with the Taliban as it was written, the official said. They didn’t think the Taliban can be trusted. Bolton advised the president to draw down the U.S. force to 8,600 — enough to counter terror threats — and “let it be” until a better deal could be hammered out, the official said. Pompeo said he didn’t know if Trump will follow through on his pledge to reduce the number of U.S. troops there from 14,000 to 8,600.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had recently announced that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban. Under the deal, the U.S. would withdraw about 5,000 U.S. troops within 135 days of signing. In exchange, the insurgents agreed to reduce violence and prevent Afghanistan from being used as a launch pad for global terror attacks, including from local Islamic State affiliate and al-Qaida.

Pompeo said the Taliban agreed to break with al-Qaida — something that past administrations have failed to get the Taliban to do. The insurgent group had hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks. After the attacks, the U.S. ousted the Taliban, which had ruled Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 to 2000.

But problems quickly emerged. Even as Khalilzad explained the deal to the Afghan people during a nationally televised interview, the Taliban detonated a car bomb targeting a compound in Kabul where many foreign contactors lived. Then on Thursday, a second Taliban car bomb exploded near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing 12 people including a U.S. service member. Khalilzad abruptly returned to Doha, Qatar for at least two days of negotiations with the Taliban, but has since been recalled to Washington.

It’s unclear if the talks will resume because the Taliban won’t trust future deals they negotiate with the U.S. if they think Trump might abruptly change course, according to the former senior Afghan official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity. The official, who has had many discussions about the peace process with both U.S. and Afghan officials, said Khalilzad’s team was not aware of Trump’s plans to tweet the end of the talks Saturday evening.

Trump’s suspension of the negotiations “will harm America more than anyone else,” the Taliban said in a statement. “It will damage its reputation, unmask its anti-peace policy to the world even more, increase its loss of life and treasure and present its political interactions as erratic.”

The former official said the deal fell apart for two main reasons. First, the Taliban refused to sign an agreement that didn’t state the end date for a complete withdrawal of American forces. That date was to be either November 2020, the same month of the U.S. presidential election, or January 2021, he said.

The U.S.-Taliban agreement was to be followed by Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government to chart a political future for the country. Ghani told Khalilzad that putting a withdrawal date in the agreement would undermine the all-Afghan discourse before it began; the Taliban would have leverage in those negotiations from the get-go because the U.S. troops would be on a timeline to permanently withdraw.

Secondly, the U.S. was unsuccessful in convincing Ghani to postpone the Afghan presidential election set for Sept. 28, the official said. The U.S. argued that if the elections were held and Ghani won, his opponents and other anti-Ghani factions would protest the results, creating a political crisis that would make the all-Afghan talks untenable. Other disagreements included why the deal did not address the Taliban’s linkages to Pakistan and prisoner-hostage exchanges, the official said.

———

Associated Press writers Cara Anna and Rahim Faiez in Kabul; Robert Burns and Jonathan Lemire in Washington; and Julie Walker with AP Radio contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(25) comments

Obadiah Plainsmen

Since Bolton's idea of foreign policy was to nuke everybody, this might be seen as the right thing to do.

public-redux

Not everyone. But I agree that Bolton wasn't one of "the best people".

richardlyons

and today Bolton resigned (or fired). You can't make this stuff up.

Thewheelone

the president demands total subservience or else you are out. His opinions are the only ones that are correct. What a train wreck of an administration.

DickD

He was fired. No crying over that!

DickD

Good to talking to you on Sunday, Rich.

richardlyons

Likewise Dick[smile]

shiftless88

As someone noted yesterday, he likes to be SEEN dealing, but does not like to do the work to actually make the deal

DickD

Tomorrow is 9/11. Does Trump have any idea of what he is doing.

olefool

The biggest lie out of his mouth at the NC rally yesterday was.... "America is respected again around the world".. And the worst thing about it is that those people, and most of the GOP believed him.

Thewheelone

While I do not fault the president for wanting to get us out of Afghanistan, this incident illustrates how little he knows about our enemies there. Is anyone but him really surprised by this turn of events? Additionally, ISIS whom the president said had been defeated, is making a resurgence in Anbar Province in Iraq an area where we lost a lot of brave service men and women previously. Perhaps the president does not know "more about ISIS than the generals." as he once claimed. I really hope the republicans can come up with a better solution than him in 2020.

Joeseamhead

The whole idea of bringing the Taliban onto this soil is reprehensible. Period. Then to entertain doing so on, or near, the anniversary of September 11, 2001, a day most of us will never forget? Disappointing, to say the least, despicable to be honest. I think the man has lost his mind.

FCPS-Principal

Do ya think it even has a mind to lose?

Joeseamhead

The picture of him saluting the North Korean general is an image I will never be able to un-see. My father, a Korean War Vet, would’ve had a stroke if he’d been alive to see that. Now he wanted to orchestrate a grandstanding fiasco with the world’s lowest scum just to try again to feed his warped ego.

DickD

Republicans think he does, word on the street is he can chew gum.

Thewheelone

Joeseamhead, [thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

rmaghan1

The taliban are murderous thugs. Regardless, POTUS attempted peace talks. The taliban showed their true selves and killed a US service member among others in their typical radical way. POTUS had the integrity to cancel the classified meeting and expose it for all to see why so good on him and his leadership. Now I know everyone on the left is going to criticize because this stalls peace talks and troop withdraws but let me be clear. The taliban are murderous thugs that want nothing more than the world to burn. We pull out 9/11 happens again so let’s be more focused on dealing with that threat and less on critiquing POTUS when in fact he handled this situation honorably and with America’s protection first. If you haven’t faced these thugs on the battlefield or played witness to their death and destruction then you have not a clue how ruthless they are. Visit 9/11 memorials in Shanksville, the pentagon or NYC if you need a reminder. There’s only one way to deal with the Taliban and we’ve been doing that for 18 years.

FCPS-Principal

One person's "murderous thug" is another man's freedom fighter! Better explain your "only one way to deal" remark to that thing in the Oval Office. It was going to fête them at Camp David, play a round of golf, take them to dinner at Voltaggio, visit the Pentagon 9/11 memorial, all on the taxpayer's dime of course.

CRSmith88

A) Classified meetings don't happen at Camp David with militia groups unless you want them to for some strange reason (maybe they wanted to try Chubby's?). B) Thugs or not, they want us out of AFG so they can regain province control in a "legal" way. C) The optics would be UNBELIEVABLE if on the 18th year mark of 9/11 they were signing a peace accord on US soil (Can you imagine the memes of Obama's admin tried this?)

olefool

They don't eat pork so no Chubby's....

DickD

The problem is most of those that attacked the U.S., on 9/11, were from Saudi Arabia.

Joeseamhead

But the Taliban aided and abetted them afterwards. And continue to do so today and they have offered no apologies in any way for it.

shiftless88

Okay, imagine that a foreign power occupied the US for the last 18 years. Would you fight back? If so, would you consider yourself a "murderous thug"?

Jleftwich

Huh?



The Taliban were never recognized by the US as a legitimate “power.” Only the Saudi’s (ironically), Pakistan, and UAE recognized them —until 9/11 occurred.

shiftless88

Jleftwich; that is besides the point. We have been occupying Afghanistan for 18 years. Would you fight back against an occupying force?

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