WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Talks on bringing peace to Afghanistan are on hold and the United States will keep pressuring Taliban militants for significant commitments while providing military support to Afghan troops, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.
U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced on Saturday that he had canceled peace talks with the Taliban’s “major leaders” at the Camp David, Maryland, presidential compound after the group claimed responsibility for a Kabul attack last week that killed a U.S. soldier and 11 other people.
The United States has recalled U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to Washington to chart the path forward, Pompeo said in appearances on Sunday news shows. Asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether Afghan talks were dead, Pompeo said, “For the time being they are.”
U.S. diplomats have been talking with Taliban representatives for months about a plan to withdraw thousands of American troops in exchange for security guarantees by the Taliban.
U.S. and Taliban negotiators struck a draft peace deal last week that could have led to a drawdown in U.S. troops from America’s longest war, one of Trump’s foreign policy objectives.
Asked about the Camp David meeting scheduled for Sunday, Pompeo said Trump decided to get personally involved to get the agreement to the finish line.
“President Trump ultimately made the decision,” Pompeo told Fox. “He said, ‘I want to talk to (President) Ashraf Ghani. I want to talk to these Taliban negotiators. I want to look them in the eye. I want to see if we can get to the final outcome we needed.’”
After news emerged of the Camp David scenario, Trump was criticized for having planned to host on U.S. soil a militant group that has killed U.S. troops and sheltered al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn’t renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country. NEVER. Full stop,” U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger, like Trump a Republican, said on Twitter on Saturday.
Americans will on Wednesday mark the 18th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Taliban fighters, who now control more territory than at any time since 2001, launched fresh assaults over the past week, including a suicide attack in Kabul on Thursday that took the life of U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Puerto Rico, bringing the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 16.
Pompeo said the United States will not let up on military support for Afghan troops until the Taliban take the necessary steps to show they are serious about peace.
He said more than 1,000 Taliban fighters have been killed in Afghanistan in the last 10 days alone.
“If the Taliban don’t behave, if they don’t deliver on the commitments that they’ve made to us now for weeks, and in some cases months, the president is not going to reduce the pressure, we’re not going to reduce our support for the Afghan security forces that have fought so hard there in Afghanistan,” Pompeo said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We’re not just going to withdraw because there’s a timeline,” he said.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Howard Goller