US President Donald Trump proclaimed talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders dead, while the general in charge said the US military is likely to ramp up operations in Afghanistan to counter increasing Taliban attacks.
Trump scrapped talks with the Taliban planned for Camp David over the weekend after an American soldier was killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul last week.
“They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead,” Trump told reporters when asked about the talks.
Trump hoped to cap months of negotiations with Taliban militants, who control large parts of Afghanistan, with a secret meeting at Camp David that would include Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and was aimed at securing an agreement to pull US troops out of America’s longest war of 18 years.
Despite the Afghan government’s wariness of negotiating with the Taliban, Trump hoped having both parties at the presidential retreat could produce a deal.
A draft accord would have seen about 5 000 American troops withdrawn over coming months in exchange for guarantees Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the United States or its allies.
Bringing US troops home is one of Trump’s main foreign policy objectives and the Republican president said his administration was thinking about a drawdown of 14 000 US soldiers in the country.
“We’d like to get out but we’ll get out at the right time,” he said.
The end of talks fuelled fears of a further increase in violence across Afghanistan.
The Taliban stepped up attacks as recent talks were taking place. US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie of US Central Command said the US military is likely to accelerate the pace of operations in Afghanistan to counter the upsurge.
McKenzie said the Taliban “overplayed their hand” in peace negotiations by carrying out a spate of high profile attacks, including one that killed a US soldier.
“We’re certainly not going to let them carry out some self-described race to victory. That’s not going to happen,” McKenzie told reporters.
Growing tension in Afghanistan adds to uncertainty about the future for American forces, many of who now simultaneously brace for an increase in fighting while awaiting potential orders to withdraw.
Trump would like to reduce US troop numbers to about 8,600.
The Taliban said more American lives would be lost as a result of Trump’s decision to cancel talks.
Asked whether increasing operations against the Taliban could include air strikes and raids by US and Afghan commandos, McKenzie responded: “I think we’re talking a total spectrum.”
“We’re going to make decisions, I think, back in our nation’s capital over the next few days and that will give us increased guidance going ahead,” he added.