US President Donald Trump speaks to media in Washington. File photo
US President Donald Trump on Saturday said he canceled peace talks with Afghanistan's Taliban leaders after the insurgent group claimed responsibility last week for an attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier and 11 other people.
Trump said he had planned a secret meeting with the Taliban's "major leaders" on Sunday at a presidential compound in Camp David, Maryland. Trump said he also planned to meet with Afghanistan's president.
But Trump said he immediately called the talks off when the insurgents said they were behind the attack.
"If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don't have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway," Trump said on Twitter.
The surprise announcement left in doubt the future of the draft accord worked out last week by Zalmay Khalilzad, the special US envoy for peace in Afghanistan, for a drawdown of thousands of US troops over the coming months.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban but the decision appeared to catch them by surprise.
Just hours before Trump's tweet, a senior Taliban leader privy to talks in Doha with US officials including Khalilzad and Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, said an agreement to sign the deal appeared close.
Taliban fighters, who now control more territory than at any time since 2001, launched fresh assaults on the northern cities of Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri over the past week and carried out two major suicide bombings in the capital Kabul.
One of the blasts, a suicide attack in Kabul on Thursday, took the life of US Army Sergeant 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Puerto Rico, bringing the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 16.
A spike in attacks by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan has been "particularly unhelpful" to peace efforts there, a senior US military commander said on Saturday as he visited neighboring Pakistan, where many Taliban militants are based.
US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, who oversees American troops in the region, declined to comment on the diplomatic negotiations themselves but criticised a wave of Taliban violence that has cast a long shadow over the deal.
Ghani said the message of the five-day gathering was clear: “Afghans want peace” and offered a ceasefire, though he stressed it would not be unilateral. In the statement on Friday, the Taliban rejected a ceasefire, saying attacks will continue during Ramadan but said “fighters are very careful of civilians during any operation.”
A fresh round of talks between the US and the Taliban is to begin in Qatar, just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is hoping for an Afghan peace agreement before Sept.1.
President Ashraf Ghani hopes to showcase unity at the four-day meeting — known as Loya Jirga — that brings together politicians, tribal elders and others.
Taiwan’s air force scrambled jets for a second consecutive day on Saturday as multiple Chinese aircraft approached the island and crossed the sensitive midline of the Taiwan Strait, with the island’s government urging Beijing
Continuing with its massive daily spike, India recorded 93,337 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, taking its overall tally across the 53-lakh mark, data from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare showed on Saturday.
The Indian army said Friday its soldiers exceeded their powers during an alleged "fake encounter" operation in Kashmir that killed three men, in a rare admission of wrongdoing in the flashpoint region.