President Donald Trump has said the United States has resumed talks with the Taliban as he made an unannounced Thanksgiving visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- his first to the war-torn country since taking office in 2017.
"The Taliban wants to make a deal and we’re meeting with them,” he told reporters at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, on November 28. "We’re saying it has to be a cease-fire and they didn’t want to do a cease-fire and now they do want to do a cease-fire."
"It'll probably work out that way," he said.
Trump's trip comes a week after the release of two Western hostages from Taliban custody in exchange for three high-ranking Taliban prisoners raised hopes for a revival of peace talks.
The United States and the Taliban had been talking in a bid to put an end to the 18-year Afghan conflict for almost a year before Trump called off the talks in September.
Reuters reported that Taliban officials told the news agency the group had been holding meetings with senior U.S. officials in Doha since last weekend, adding they could soon resume formal peace talks.
"Our stance is still the same. If peace talks start, it will be resumed from the stage where it had stopped," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters on November 28, shortly after Trump said the talks were back on.
In Bagram, Trump acknowledged U.S. troop levels were "substantially" coming down, but insisted that "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."
There are roughly 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as well as European forces participating in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's team last month released a seven-point proposal aimed at building on the U.S.-Taliban talks.
However, observers have questioned whether certain proposals in the plan -- including a call for a monthlong Taliban cease-fire before talks resume -- are feasible.
Also, the Taliban has so far refused to talk to the Afghan government, which it says is a U.S. puppet.
Trump was greeted by U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, upon his arrival at Bagram.
Trump, who was accompanied by U.S. national-security adviser Robert O'Brien, met with Ghani, who officials said was given only a few hours’ notice of the visit.
The Afghan leader thanked Trump for pressing for "the type of peace that will ensure the gains of the past year and ensure your security and our security."
Later, Ghani wrote on Twitter that in "our bilateral meeting, we discussed the important progress we have jointly made in our military efforts in the battlefield, including crushing [Islamic State] in eastern Afghanistan. President Trump appreciated the tireless efforts of the Afghan security forces in this fight."
"Both sides underscored that if the Taliban are sincere in their commitment to reaching a peace deal, they must accept a cease-fire. We also emphasized that for any peace to last, terrorist safe havens outside Afghanistan must be dismantled," Ghani wrote.
During his visit to the base, Trump also served turkey to some U.S. troops and sat down to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP