US-Taliban talks back on track, says Trump

President Donald Trump said Thursday the US and the Taliban insurgents, are talking to make a deal again, two months after Trump pronounced the talks dead.

Trump spoke about the resumed peace talks when he made a surprise trip to Afghanistan to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with troops.

On a brief visit to Bagram Airfield outside the capital Kabul, Trump served turkey dinner to soldiers, posed for photographs and delivered a speech after meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“The Taliban wants to make a deal and we’re meeting with them and we’re saying it has to be a ceasefire,” he told reporters.

About 13,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, 18 years after the United States invaded after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Trump said he planned to reduce the number to 8,600 without giving further details.

“There’s nowhere I’d rather celebrate this Thanksgiving than right here with the toughest, strongest, best and bravest warriors on the face of the earth,” the president, on his first trip to the war-torn country, told the troops.

“I’ve just come from serving Thanksgiving dinner to some of you… and we had a good time.”

Trump joked that he started eating mashed potato but was called away before he even tasted his traditional turkey fare.

“I should’ve started with that instead of the mashed potatoes,” he said.

“But I hope everyone enjoyed the fantastic meal, it certainly did look good and hopefully everyone can get some well-deserved rest this holiday.”

The United States earlier this year reached a deal with Taliban insurgents to pull US troops from the country and wind down America’s longest war in return for security guarantees.

But Trump made a shock move in September, describing the year-long talks as “dead” and withdrawing an invitation to the insurgents to meet near Washington due to the killing of a US soldier.

The Taliban refuses to negotiate formally with the Afghan government, though diplomatic efforts have continued to foster dialogue and an eventual peace deal.

“For a period of time we’ve been working to make a deal,” Trump said. “We’ve made tremendous progress over the last six months… and at the same time we’ve been drawing down our troops.

“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.”

Ghani thanked Trump for pushing for “the type of peace that will ensure the gains of the past year and ensure your security and our security.”

Afghanistan remains roiled by violence, and US presidents are still only able to make brief, unannounced visits to Bagram — the biggest US base in the country — due to the security threat.

The Taliban last week handed over two hostages — an American and an Australian — after three years in captivity in an exchange for three high-ranking insurgent prisoners, in a move seen as a boost to peace talks.

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