President Donald Trump met his top national security advisers as his team prepares to unveil an Afghanistan peace agreement with the Taliban that would help bring an end to America’s longest war.
Among those discussing the matter with Trump at his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, were Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.
The US special envoy for the talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, will then present the plan to Taliban leaders in a new round of discussions, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
“Discussions centred around our ongoing negotiations and eventual peace and reconciliation agreement with the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement. “The meeting went very well, and negotiations are proceeding.”
Khalilzad briefed analysts in Washington on the plan. He has led the talks for months with the initial goal of cutting troop levels in exchange for guarantees from the Taliban not to allow terror groups such as IS to infiltrate the country.
Afghan authorities have been largely sidelined in the process and the Taliban have escalated attacks in Afghanistan as the negotiations continue.
The Taliban have so far refused to hold talks with the authorities in Kabul until it first reaches a binding deal with the Trump administration on withdrawing foreign forces.
Trump campaigned for the presidency on ending what he called endless wars and bringing American troops stationed overseas back home. But the fear that a rapid US withdrawal might lead to chaos in Afghanistan has loomed over proposals to scale back. Even now, the Taliban control or contest about half the country’s territory, more than at any time since it was ousted in 2001 by an American-led invasion following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In July, a report issued by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said Afghanistan’s army remains seriously shorthanded, and the problem may be worse than anyone fully understands because payrolls are inflated by police who have resigned, been fired or died, with their salaries diverted to a group of conspirators.
The meeting with Trump also included Defense Secretary Mark Esper and General Joe Dunford, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Despite criticising former President Barack Obama for telegraphing US plans for troop draw-downs, Trump and his team have made no secret of their desire to get American soldiers out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. In July, Pompeo was asked if the US planned to reduce troops in Afghanistan before the 2020 presidential election.
“That’s my directive from the President of the United States,” Pompeo told David Rubenstein at the Economic Club of Washington. “He’s been unambiguous: End the endless wars, draw down, reduce.”
Pompeo later said there was “no deadline” for a troop withdrawal.