Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other members of the national security team briefed President Donald Trump on Friday on the state of peace negotiations in Afghanistan, with Pompeo saying afterward that “led by the president, we are working diligently on the path forward.”
Trump, who is spending most of the week at his golf club in New Jersey, has long been skeptical of the need to keep a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have been fighting since 2001. The war has taken more than 2,400 American lives.
Trump tweeted after the meeting: “Many on the opposite side of this 19 year war, and us, are looking to make a deal - if possible!”
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said other participants in the meeting included Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Also present were national security adviser John Bolton, Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the envoy who has led the U.S. side in talks with the Taliban. Gidley said the meeting “went very well, and negotiations are proceeding.”
The latest round of peace talks between the Taliban and the United States ended early Monday without final resolution. Both sides said they would consult with their leadership on the next steps toward a deal, which is intended to lead to direct peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Trump has complained that U.S. forces in Afghanistan serve as “policemen.” That description irks Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who urged the president to listen to his national security team.
“American service members are not acting as policemen in Afghanistan,” Graham said. “They are the front-line defense for America against the reemergence of radical Islamist groups who wish to attack the American homeland.”
Pompeo released a statement after the meeting that touched on Graham’s concern.
“In continued close cooperation with the government of Afghanistan, we remain committed to achieving a comprehensive peace agreement, including a reduction in violence and a ceasefire, ensuring that Afghan soil is never again used to threaten the United States or her allies, and bringing Afghans together to work towards peace,” Pompeo said.
The U.S. and the Taliban appear to be closing in on an agreement under which U.S. forces would withdraw in exchange for guarantees that Afghanistan would not become a haven for other terrorist groups.
The U.S. has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. They mainly advise and assist Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism operations against the Islamic State group’s Afghan affiliate and other extremist groups, including al-Qaida.
Khalilzad has prioritized getting the Taliban to agree to intra-Afghan talks and to a permanent cease-fire. But the Taliban have continued to sideline the Kabul government, which it dismisses as a U.S. puppet, and it has not agreed to a permanent cease-fire.
The Taliban have kept up a near-daily rate of deadly attacks, despite holding several rounds of talks with Khalilzad since his appointment almost a year ago. The Taliban now control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since 2001, when the U.S.-led invasion toppled their government after it harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army on Friday announced the latest round of troop rotations into Afghanistan. The 10th Mountain Division Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Drum, New York, will deploy to Afghanistan later this year, and the 3rd Security Forces Assistance Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, will go in to replace the 2nd SFAB, which does much of the training and advising of Afghan security forces around the country.
Lee reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.