Trump, Tal­iban re­sume talks

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Kris­tine Phillips and Court­ney Subra­ma­nian

Pres­i­dent makes sur­prise visit to Afghanista­n

WASHINGTON – Pres­i­dent Donald Trump an­nounced he restarted peace talks with the Tal­iban dur­ing a sur­prise visit to sol­diers Thurs­day at Bagram Airfield in Afghanista­n, his first visit to the coun­try since be­com­ing pres­i­dent.

Trump spent about 2 1⁄2 hours at the mil­i­tary base, where he served tur­key to sol­diers in a din­ing hall, posed for photos, de­liv­ered brief re­marks and met with Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani, ac­cord­ing to press pool re­ports. The pres­i­dent ar­rived at Bagram Airfield, the largest U. S. base in Afghanista­n, around 8: 30 p. m. lo­cal time.

The trip, Trump’s se­cond visit to a com­bat zone, comes as he faces threats to his pres­i­dency back home. A fast- mov­ing im­peach­ment in­quiry yielded tes­ti­mony about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s efforts to push Ukraine to an­nounce in­ves­ti­ga­tions that could have been po­lit­i­cally beneficial to Trump in 2020.

Trump an­nounced the restart of peace ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Tal­iban dur­ing a bi­lat­eral meet­ing with Ghani.

“The Tal­iban wants to make a deal – we’ll see if they make a deal. If they do, they do, and if they don’t, they don’t. That’s fine,” Trump said at a news con­fer­ence.

The pres­i­dent re­it­er­ated his de­sire to re­duce the num­ber of Amer­i­can troops in Afghanista­n to 8,600, a figure he cited in an­nounc­ing a ma­jor with­drawal in Au­gust. The United States has fewer than 14,000 troops in Afghanista­n; mil­i­tary of­fi­cials would not confirm the ex­act num­ber.

The move would re­duce troop lev­els to one of the low­est points in the his­tory of the war. U. S. troops swelled to nearly 100,000 at the high­est mark in 2011 and dipped to 8,300 in 2017.

Peace talks were up­ended in Septem­ber, when Trump can­celed a se­cret sum­mit with the Tal­iban, Ghani and other Afghan of­fi­cials af­ter the mil­i­tant group killed a U. S. sol­dier. The meet­ing was to final­ize an agree­ment that had been in the works for months to re­duce U. S. forces in Afghanista­n and would have taken place at Camp David two days be­fore the 18th an­niver­sary of the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

Trump said “it was not a good thing” that the group killed the sol­dier, who was from Puerto Rico. He touted progress in “draw­ing down” the Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS, and al- Qaida de­spite a re­duced num­ber of troops.

In Oc­to­ber, Trump or­dered the with­drawal of U. S. troops in Syria, a de­ci­sion that al­lowed Tur­key’s in­cur­sion into the re­gion and left vul­ner­a­ble Kur­dish forces that had worked with the United States to roll back gains made by ter­ror­ists. A Pen­tagon report re­leased shortly af­ter Trump’s or­der found that it pro­vided the Is­lamic State an open­ing to re­build it­self.

Be­fore the meet­ing with Ghani, Trump served tur­key to about two dozen troops in a din­ing hall dec­o­rated with red, or­ange and yel­low ban­ners, ac­cord­ing to pool re­ports.

“I’ll be talk­ing to you later, but right now I want to have some tur­key,” Trump told sol­diers as he joined a ta­ble of ser­vice mem­bers at the hall, where 500 troops ate their Thanks­giv­ing meal. Trump sat down to eat a plate of tur­key, mashed pota­toes and corn­bread, ac­cord­ing to pool re­ports.

White House spokes­woman Stephanie Gr­isham, who ac­com­pa­nied Trump on the trip, said the visit had been planned for months. Re­porters trav­el­ing with the pres­i­dent were not told of the des­ti­na­tion un­til two hours be­fore land­ing. They were barred from re­port­ing on the trip un­til the visit was nearly over.

Trump had ini­tially flown to his Mar- a- Lago re­sort, but he flew out of an undis­closed air­port in Florida on Wed­nes­day evening and landed at Joint An­drews Base, where he boarded Air Force One, ac­cord­ing to pool re­ports. First lady Me­la­nia Trump stayed be­hind in Florida.

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence made a sur­prise visit to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq last week to serve a Thanks­giv­ing din­ner to troops.

Last year, Trump made a sur­prise visit to troops in Iraq, where he de­fended his de­ci­sion to with­draw troops from Syria. The trip last December was Trump’s first en­counter with sol­diers serv­ing un­der his com­mand in a com­bat zone.

OLIVIER DOULIERY/ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Pres­i­dent Trump serves Thanks­giv­ing din­ner to U. S. troops in Afghanista­n.

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