U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated peace negotiations with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan are back on track and vowed again to withdraw American troops from the country.
“You know we're pulling way down in Afghanistan. We're working on an agreement now with the Taliban. Let’s see what happens,” Trump told Fox News on November 22 in a telephone call to the program "Fox and Friends." He did not elaborate further.
Trump’s remarks followed a successful prisoner swap on November 18 that freed an American and an Australian professor in exchange for the release of three high-ranking insurgent prisoners by the U.S.-backed Afghan government. Additionally, the Taliban also released 10 Afghan soldiers as a “goodwill gesture.”
It was widely thought that the release of American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, who had been held hostage since August 2016, could lead to a resumption of U.S.-Taliban negotiations.
“Let’s hope this leads to more good things on the peace front like a cease-fire that will help end this long war,” Trump tweeted on November 20 while praising the release of the Western hostages.
“It is too early to say anything about it,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA when asked for his reaction to Trump’s November 22 remarks.
Trump abruptly called off the yearlong dialogue in early September, citing a string of Taliban attacks in Kabul that killed among others an American soldier. Trump defended his decision in the interview with Fox News.
“The last time I was supposed to have an agreement, then they (Taliban) thought when they came over, they thought it would be good to kill people so they could negotiate from a position of strength,” Trump explained.
At the time when Washington suspended the talks with the Taliban, the two adversaries in the 18-year-old Afghan war had come close to signing an agreement to set the stage for an American military drawdown in return for insurgent counterterrorism guarantees and commitments to enter into intra-Afghan peace talks.
On November 22 Chief U.S. peace negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he was hopeful the prisoner swap would lead to “a reduction in violence and rapid progress” toward a political settlement involving the Afghan government, the Taliban and other Afghan leaders.
“The Afghan people yearn for peace and security, and we stand with them,” tweeted the Afghan-born American diplomat.
However, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen earlier this week rejected as untrue reports that his group had agreed to engage in direct negotiations with the Afghan government in the wake of the successful prisoner swap.
The Taliban remains strongly opposed to any peace talks with the Kabul administration, dismissing it as an American puppet.