November 29, 2019
US President Donald Trump delivers remarks to American troops during an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, on Nov 28, 2019. Photo: Reuters
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (REUTERS) – United States President Donald Trump made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to US troops in Afghanistan on Thursday (Nov 28) and said he believed Taleban insurgents would agree to a ceasefire in America’s longest war.
Mr Trump’s visit was his first to Afghanistan since becoming president and came a week after a prisoner swop between Washington and Kabul that has raised hopes for a revival of peace agreement.
“The Taleban wants to make a deal and we are meeting with them,” Mr Trump told reporters after arriving in Afghanistan after an overnight flight from the US, kept secret for security reasons.
“We say it has to be a ceasefire and they didn’t want to do a ceasefire and now they want to do a ceasefire, I believe. It will probably work out that way.”
Taleban leaders have told Reuters that the group has again been holding meetings with senior US officials in Doha since last weekend, adding they could soon resume formal peace talks.
The Air Force One presidential plane touched down at the sprawling Bagram Airfield with White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, a small group of aides and Secret Service agents, and a pool of reporters.
Mr Trump met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and served turkey to some US troops before sitting down to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them. He chatted and had his picture taken with some of the US forces deployed there.
“What a great job you do. It’s an honour to be here,” he said.
Mr Trump was greeted upon his arrival by US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen Milley said on Wednesday that the chances of a successful outcome from peace talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan were higher than before and could happen in the “near term”.
Mr Trump has long wanted to end US involvement in Afghanistan – since his days as a presidential candidate – as well as in other protracted overseas conflicts and to force allies to pay more of the costs that he says fall disproportionately on American taxpayers.
There are currently about 13,000 US forces as well as thousands of other Nato troops in Afghanistan, 18 years after an invasion by a US-led coalition following the Sept 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda attacks on the US.
A draft accord agreed in September would have seen about 5,000 American troops withdrawn over coming months in exchange for guarantees that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the US or its allies.
The US military has said it can go down to 8,600 troops and still carry out an essential counter-terrorism mission in a country where both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State fighters would continue to pose a threat even after any Taleban peace deal.
Mr Trump acknowledged US troop levels were “substantially” coming down but did not provide a specific number.
“We’re going to stay until such time as we have a deal or we have total victory, and they want to make a deal very badly,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Afghan Taleban released American and Australian university professors held hostage for more than three years, lifting hopes for a peace push that Mr Trump himself declared dead earlier this year.