U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to Qatar for the beginning of long-stalled peace negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul to end the nearly two-decade-old Afghanistan war, President Donald Trump announced on Thursday.
Trump’s comments came on the eve of the 19th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that sparked the Afghanistan war.
“The negotiations are the result of a bold diplomatic effort,” Trump told reporters, referring to the Afghan government-Taliban talks, known as the intra-Afghan negotiations, expected to begin this weekend.
In recent years, Trump administration officials played “an important role in bringing the [Afghan warring] party’s together to end the decades-long war,” the commander-in-chief proclaimed. “It’s been going on for almost 20 years. Long before I got involved.”
Since mid-2018, the Trump administration has been trying to negotiate an end to the Afghanistan conflict that began in October 2001. The Taliban had long refused to engage in talks with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, dismissing it as an illegitimate American puppet. However, the Taliban, Qatar, and the Afghan government all confirmed that the intra-Afghan negotiations would begin this weekend. The United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal in February that laid out the upcoming talks.
“A lot of people thought that my natural instinct is war. No, my natural instinct is actually peace,” Trump said.
“We’re getting along very, very well with the Taliban and very well with Afghanistan and its representatives, and we’ll see how it all goes,” the president added. “It’s a negotiation, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be departing in a little while, so I think it’s very exciting news.”
Former President Barack Obama’s administration attempted to bring peace to Afghanistan but failed. The vast majority of the 2,312 American military fatalities and 20,665 injuries in Afghanistan, as reported by the Pentagon, took place under Obama’s watch.
“Since February, we haven’t had a death in Afghanistan … that’s a record for many years, not a death,” Trump noted Thursday.
Shortly, the U.S. will reduce its military footprint to 4,000, “the smallest” number of American troops in Afghanistan since the war began, Trump said.
The withdrawal of American troops is not contingent upon the success of the negotiations. Instead, it is dependant on the Taliban’s commitments under the February deal to fight its Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) rivals and ensure that Afghanistan doe not become a staging ground again for attacks against America and its allies.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Taliban is also supposed to sever ties with al-Qaeda. However, the United Nations reported that, as of the end of May, the Taliban narco-jihadis continued to back al-Qaeda.
In October 2001, American troops invaded Afghanistan because the Taliban regime in power at the time was harboring al-Qaeda, the group behind the 9/11 attacks. U.S. troops ousted the Taliban soon after entering the country, but the terrorist group, alongside al-Qaeda and other jihadi organizations, have since been fighting to regain power.