Donald Trump has said that he cancelled secret peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders, after the insurgent group said it was behind an attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier and 11 other people.
The US president said on Twitter that Taliban leaders were due to meet for peace talks at Camp David on Sunday, but he had called them off after the Taliban claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack.
“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” Trump said on Twitter on Saturday.
The Taliban attack came on Thursday, when a car bomb blast shook Shash Darak, a heavily fortified area adjacent to the green zone and home to several important complexes including the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service.
The American death brought to at least 16 the number of US military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan this year, just as Washington is seeking a way out of its longest war.
On Twitter, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying a “martyrdom seeker” – or suicide bomber – had triggered the car bomb and that “foreign invaders” were killed.
The capital has been gripped by a surge in deadly violence even after the US and the insurgents reached an agreement “in principle” that would see the Pentagon pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan in return for various Taliban security promises.
Afghanistan’s internationally recognised president, Ashraf Ghani, had been outspoken in his criticism of the shape of the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, who have refused to negotiate with his government.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born veteran US diplomat who has been meeting with the Taliban in Qatar, has been leading the diplomatic process for nearly a year.
Khalilzad had said in Kabul that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban.
According to parts of the draft deal that had been made public, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops from five bases across Afghanistan by early next year.
The insurgents in turn would renounce al-Qaida, promise to fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.
The fight against al-Qaida was the initial reason for the US-led war that overthrew the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
But US public opinion has soured on nearly two decades of war and Trump, after initially being persuaded to reinforce US troops, has said that the US should not be involved in “endless” war.
Trump had been uncharacteristically reticent about Afghanistan in recent weeks, with all eyes on whether he would approve a final deal.
Washington had hoped that a withdrawal of US troops would lead to negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul on a more permanent peace.
Speaking earlier Saturday in Paris, defence secretary Mark Esper had said that the US would only accept a “good deal” with the Taliban – words welcomed by the government in Kabul.
But Trump’s abrupt announcement creates more questions about the process, and comes weeks before Afghanistan is set to hold elections, an unwieldy exercise even in more stable times.