Trump speaks with senior Taliban leader by phone, in a first between a U.S. president and insurgent force since Afghan war began
Trump confirmed the Taliban’s announcement Tuesday that he had spoken by phone with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top political leader.
“I spoke to the leader of the Taliban today. We had a good conversation. We’ve agreed there’s no violence, we don’t want violence, we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “They’re dealing with Afghanistan but we’ll see what happens. We had actually a very good talk.”
Baradar is a senior figure representing the insurgent group in talks with the United States in Doha, Qatar. Those talks concluded with the signing of an accord Saturday between the United States and the Taliban that would lead to the reduction of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Trump said Saturday that he intends to meet face to face with Taliban leaders, but did not provide details.
“I’ll be meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not-too-distant future. And we’ll be very much hoping that they will be doing what they say they’re going to be doing: They will be killing terrorists,” Trump said. “They will be killing some very bad people. They will keep that fight going.”
The Taliban is opposed to the Islamic State fighting force that the United States is also fighting in several countries. A large part of the rationale for leaving U.S. troops in Afghanistan has been to prevent the country from again becoming a base for terrorism aimed at the United States or its allies.
Trump has been explicit in his desire to end a war that he calls little more than a police action that wastes U.S. military resources. He has also been clear that he would set aside the qualms of previous presidents about dealing with the Taliban, which harbored 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and then fought U.S. forces after the 2001 invasion.
Trump built on a stalled outreach to the Taliban begun under President Barack Obama, and empowered an envoy, veteran U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, to bargain toward a U.S. exit. Trump called off a planned signing ceremony at Camp David last year, but Khalilzad returned to the effort not long afterward.
The phone call is notable for the stature it confers on Baradar. U.S. presidents typically deal directly with other heads of state or government, although there are exceptions. Obama received a 2011 letter purporting to be from Taliban senior leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, but the two had no known direct contact.
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Earlier Tuesday, the Taliban had released a photo on Twitter showing Baradar and other leaders seated at a table with a large phone console in the center.
In a statement, Baradar welcomed the phone call and said “we assure with full confidence that if the U.S. implements the agreement, this will have positive impact on the bilateral relations in future.”
In the statement, Baradar addressed Trump directly.
“Mr President! You should act on the withdrawal of foreign troops and positive relations, and shouldn’t allow anyone to act against the deal,” Baradar said. “They would engage you in this long war.”
That was apparently a reference to both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom Trump spoke Sunday, and domestic U.S. critics of the Taliban agreement. Ghani’s weak U.S.-backed government has balked at the upfront release of Taliban prisoners, which the Taliban says is a condition of negotiations.
The U.S. deal with the Taliban is supposed to be a precursor to a national peace accord between the insurgents and the elected government based in Kabul. The Taliban considers itself the real rulers of Afghanistan, as Baradar’s statement makes clear.
The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is an organized political and military force, and is committed to have cordial bilateral relations with you and the international community,” Baradar said, adding that the United States should help rebuild Afghanistan after years of war.
“This is the right of the Afghan people to have a government of their choice with full freedom. So as soon as possible, the agreement is implemented, there will be peace and the people will get their rights,” Baradar said.
The Taliban statement quotes Trump as saying the Taliban has been “fighting for your country,” and that the time has come for the United States to leave. The Taliban said Trump also pledged that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will speak to Ghani “to remove hurdles in the way of intra-Afghan dialogue.”
“We will take part in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.”
Baradar was a co-founder of the Taliban movement and served as deputy to Omar, the founding leader, who died in 2013.
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Baradar was arrested in Pakistan in 2010 and released in 2018. He immediately resumed political power with the group.
Susannah George in Kabul and Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.