US President Donald Trump holds up a tray of Thanksgiving dinner during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops, Nov 28, 2019, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (ALEX BRANDON / AP)
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — US President Donald Trump paid a surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan, where he announced the US and Taliban have been engaged in ongoing peace talks and said he believes the Taliban want a cease-fire.
During his visit, Trump announced that the US and Taliban have been engaged in peace talks and insisted the Taliban want to make a deal after heavy US fire in recent months
Trump arrived at Bagram Air Field shortly after 8:30 pm local time Thursday and spent 3½ hours on the ground during his first trip to the site of America’s longest war. He served turkey and thanked the troops, delivered a speech and sat down with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani before leaving just after midnight.
As per tradition, reporters were under strict instructions to keep the trip a secret to ensure the president’s safety in the country. About 12,000 US forces remain in Afghanistan.
Traveling with Republican Sen John Barrasso of Wyoming and a small clutch of aides, including his acting chief of staff, press secretary and national security adviser, Trump appeared in good spirits as he was escorted around the base by heavily armed soldiers, as the smell of burning fuel and garbage wafted through the chilly air. Unlike last year’s post-Christmas visit to Iraq — his first to an active combat zone — first lady Melania Trump did not make the trip.
Trump’s first stop was a dining hall, where the crowd erupted into cheers when he arrived. There, he served turkey to soldiers dressed in fatigues and sat down for a meal. But he said he only tasted the mashed potatoes before he was pulled away for photos.
During his visit, Trump announced that the US and Taliban have been engaged in peace talks and insisted the Taliban want to make a deal after heavy US fire in recent months.
“We’re meeting with them,” he said. “And we’re saying it has to be a cease-fire. And they don’t want to do a cease-fire, but now they do want to do a cease-fire, I believe ... and we’ll see what happens.”
US President Donald Trump, center, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Mark Milley, behind him at right, while addressing members of the military during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit, Nov 28, 2019, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (ALEX BRANDON / AP)
The trip came after Trump abruptly broke off peace talks with the Taliban in September, canceling a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders at the Camp David presidential retreat after a particularly deadly spate of violence, capped by a bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier.
The US and Taliban had been close to an agreement in September that might have enabled a US. troop withdrawal.
Nonetheless, Trump said Thursday that he was proceeding with a plan to reduce US troop levels to about 8,600, telling reporters we’re “bringing down the number of troops substantially.”
Still, he said, the US will stay in the country “until we have a deal or we have total victory.”
Trump made the announcement as he met with Ghani, the Afghan president. Ghani thanked the Americans who have made the “ultimate sacrifice” in Afghanistan and assured the president that Afghan security forces are increasingly leading the fight.
“In the next three months, it’s going to be all Afghanistan!” Ghani said.
The trip came a week after the Taliban freed an American and an Australian who had been held hostage since 2016 in exchange for three top Taliban figures — a move that has been widely seen as a possible entree to rekindling peace talks.
The White House took pains to keep the trip a secret after Trump’s cover was blown last year when Air Force One was spotted en route to Iraq by an amateur British flight watcher.
Shortly after midnight, Trump and his entourage departed from Afghanistan.
The president told the troops he was honored to spend part of his holiday with them.
HONG KONG NEWS