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President Trump Calls Off Potential Peace Deal With The Taliban


In a series of tweets, President Trump called off a potential deal with the Taliban. It would have ended 18 years of Americans at war in Afghanistan. That deal had been painstakingly negotiated between the president's envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban. They had met for nine rounds of talks in Qatar, and a deal had been agreed to in principle. Under it, the U.S. would've been expected to withdraw more than a third of the 14,000 troops still there. And in exchange, the Taliban wouldn't use Afghanistan as a base for terrorist attacks.

To sort through all of this now, we're joined by NPR's Tom Bowman, who is in Afghanistan now. Hey, Tom.


CHANG: So I understand you're traveling with Marine General Frank McKenzie right now. He's the head of Central Command, which means he commands all the troops in the Middle East. What has been their reaction to this news that President Trump undid this deal that was on the table between the Taliban and the U.S.?

BOWMAN: We're traveling with General McKenzie in eastern Afghanistan. We went to a base this morning, and several of the soldiers asked the general about the way ahead now that they pulled the plug on the talks. Will troops be cut, as President Trump suggested? And the general said, listen; at this point, there's no word yet on whether troops will be cut. But he said if they are cut by about 5,000, as the president suggested, that the U.S. could still continue the mission - train Afghan forces, go after ISIS as well as the Taliban - again, continue the current mission.

CHANG: OK. So just to step back for a moment, can you just remind us what was in the current deal?

BOWMAN: The details in the deal were pretty closely held, but, essentially, the U.S. would cut troops if the Taliban renounced al-Qaida and agree to an intra-Afghan meeting. Also, the Taliban was to reduce violence as well, but there was no agreement on a cease-fire, which would've, of course, stopped all fighting while the Afghans and the Taliban talked. This could have been a sticking point.

CHANG: The cease-fire.

BOWMAN: Right, the cease-fire while the president pulled the plug on all this.

Now, there are also complaints from the Afghan government and some in Congress that the U.S. really didn't get much out of this deal. The deal was pretty thin. The Taliban, interestingly, were pretty content with the deal and may have overplayed their hand, some are saying, by this bombing that essentially just ended the deal that they really had in their hand.

And now, of course, it's back to the drawing board. There are meetings in D.C. this week with top White House officials, administration officials, as well as Zalmay Khalilzad himself. He's in Washington for consultations.

CHANG: Now, this bombing that you just mentioned - that was the reason that President Trump presented as the reason he decided to stop the talks for the moment, but are you getting the sense from your end that that was the actual reason these talks are falling through?

BOWMAN: Well, people really don't know, and it could've been that there was no cease-fire as part of this agreement, which a lot of people wanted. Also, the Afghan government and some members of Congress said, listen; the U.S. really didn't get much out of this agreement. The Taliban seemed to get a lot more than the Americans did. There was no reduction in violence. That was a big part of this. And the U.S. would cut its troops, in essence, for assurances from the Taliban that they would reduce violence and maybe meet with Afghan officials. But again, the sense was the Taliban got the better part of this deal.

CHANG: All right, so now that the pause button has been hit on this deal, who's going to be paying the biggest price for things not moving forward at this point?

BOWMAN: Well, in many cases like this, it's always the civilians that pay the price because they're going to get caught in the crossfire here. The Taliban have increased the attacks, and General McKenzie told us that the U.S. would respond in kind. Let's listen.

GENERAL FRANK MCKENZIE: We're certainly not going to sit still and let them carry out some self-described race to victory. That's not going to happen. And so we'll take whatever measures are necessary to prevent that.

BOWMAN: And so the meetings continue in Washington. And here in Afghanistan, the fighting continues.

CHANG: That's NPR's Tom Bowman. He's traveling with the head of CENTCOM in Afghanistan. Thanks very much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.