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Trump says Afghan talks ‘dead’, Taliban vow to make him ‘regret it

  US President Donald Trump said on Monday peace negotiations with the Taliban were “dead” and though he was still looking at a drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan, he would order it only “at the right time”.

“They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead,” Trump told reporters, adding that the Taliban “thought that they had to kill people in order to put themselves in a little better negotiating position.”

The Taliban responded with equal belligerence that signalled a likely escalation in violence. “We had two ways to end occupation in Afghanistan, one was jihad and fighting, the other was talks and negotiations,”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement. “If Trump wants to stop talks, we will take the first way and they will soon regret it.”

Trump first announced a secret meeting he had planned with Taliban leaders and the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani at Camp David, a presidential retreat outside Washington, to wrap an agreement following months of direct US-Taliban talks, in a series of tweets on Saturday in which he also said he was cancelling it because of continued violence by the insurgent group.

It wasn’t clear then if the talks were off for good. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the next day that they had been cancelled “for the time being”, and now Trump has said they are “dead”. But the American president is known to reverse himself, as he did leading up to his first summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

News reports indicate significant differences in the Trump administration on Afghan peace talks, with Pompeo backing the deal brokered by Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad after nine round of direct talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which would cut the number of US troops in Afghanistan from the current 14,000 to 8,400 in exchange for the Taliban guaranteeing counterterrorism cooperation. On the other side of the debate was National Security Advisor John Bolton whom Trump fired Tuesday.

Bolton had argued against the deal and suggested the president could order a draw-down, as he has been wanting to, without an agreement.

When asked if he had been talked out of the Camp David by his advisors — who were unhappy about inviting the Taliban to the presidential retreat irrespective of their position on the deal — Trump said,

“Actually, in terms of advisors, I took my own advice.” To call for a meeting with the Taliban was “my idea, and it was my idea to terminate it”.

The American president had come under severe criticism for inviting the Taliban to Camp David even by supporters such as Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who wrote on Twitter, “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. No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever. The Taliban still harbors al Qaeda. The President is right to end the talks.”