(CNSNews.com) – As accusations flew Sunday over a stalled Afghanistan peace initiative, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that conditions for the Taliban were “about to get worse,” after President Trump called off a plan to meet with leaders of the terrorist group at Camp David.
“I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to talk about specifics,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “but no one should underestimate President Trump’s commitment to achieving those goals.”
Pompeo did the round of Sunday television talk shows to answer questions about Trump’s surprising Saturday tweets in which he revealed plans to host the group’s leaders – and, separately, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani – at the presidential retreat in Maryland.
Trump said he canceled the meeting “and called off peace negotiations” after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Kabul Thursday that killed another American soldier and 11 other people.
Paratrooper Sgt. 1st Class Elis Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico, became the 16th U.S. soldier or Marine to be killed in combat in Afghanistan this year. Pompeo joined Barreto’s wife and two young sons at Dover Air Force Base on Saturday night to receive his remains.
Over the past 11 months U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held nine rounds of talks with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar in an effort to negotiate an end to America’s longest war and bring home U.S. troops – currently some 14,000 are deployed – as Trump pledged to do during his campaign for the White House.
But on what appeared to be the cusp of an agreement, Trump has now recalled Khalilzad.
On the Sunday shows, Pompeo pushed back at the notion that the U.S. had been “standing still” even as the Taliban attacks continued despite the talks, disclosing that U.S. forces have killed more than a thousand Taliban fighters “in just the last 10 days alone.”
And, he told the NBC show that things were “about to get worse” for the terrorist group.
Asked to elaborate, Pompeo replied, “We’re going to make sure that everyone in the region understands that America will always protect its national security interests.”
“I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to talk about specifics, but no one should underestimate President Trump’s commitment to achieving those goals.”
Pompeo said the Taliban had “overreached,” but in a statement posted on its official websites the fundamentalist group seemed surprised at Trump’s explanation for the suspension, suggesting he was overreacting.
“Such a reaction towards a single attack just before the signing of an agreement displays lack of composure and experience,” it said. “This even as attacks by the U.S. and their domestic supporters prior martyred hundreds of Afghans and destroyed their assets.”
The group warned that Trump’s decision to suspend negotiations would “harm America more than anyone else.”
“It will damage its reputation, unmask its anti-peace policy to the world even more, increase its loss of life and treasure and present its political interactions as erratic,” it said.
Trump in his tweets wondered “how many more decades” the Taliban was willing to continue fighting.
In its statement, the Taliban pointed to its “eighteen-year resistance” and vowed to “continue our jihad for this great cause and maintain our strong belief in ultimate victory, Allah willing.”
Trump’s disclosure that he was willing to meet Taliban leaders at Camp David brought strong criticism – including from some Republicans, who questioned the appropriateness and timing of such an initiative.
“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11," Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) tweeted on Sunday. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever. The Taliban still harbors al Qaeda.”
Wednesday marks the 18th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attack on America, the atrocity which led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after the Taliban – which then controlled most of the country – refused to surrender Osama bin Laden or eject its al-Qaeda allies.
Pompeo said Trump had “ultimately made the decision” on the Camp David meeting, and disputed that he had personally opposed the initiative.
“I’ve been fully supportive of this effort,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The direction that we have taken at the State Department, the effort President Trump has given us guidance to go deliver on, is something I think is important. It’s valuable. I think the timing is just right.”
On Fox News Sunday, Pompeo said Trump had said, “I want to talk to these Taliban negotiators. I want to look them in the eye. I want to see if we can get to the final outcome that we needed so that we could sign off on that deal, so we found that arrangement acceptable, that the verification was adequate.”
Pompeo pointed out that “lots of bad folks have come through” Camp David, adding that when trying to reach a peace agreement, almost always “you don’t get to negotiate with good guys.” (Fox News’ Chris Wallace recalled that PLO terrorist chief Yasser Arafat had been a Camp David guest.)
Pompeo told NBC the draft deal reached with the Taliban had included a commitment that it would “make a formal public announcement that they would break with al-Qaeda,” something he noted had been demanded by the United States going back to President George W. Bush.
As for the road ahead, Pompeo indicated that Trump would not be keeping to a troops withdrawal plan simply because a timeline exists.
“We’re only going to reduce our forces when certain conditions are met,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “And if we can’t get those conditions met,” he added, there would be no deal.
Pompeo recalled that Trump had walked away from a prospective agreement with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Hanoi last February, and that he had walked away from entreaties from the Iranian regime.
“If it’s not right, if it’s not protecting the American people, if the conditions aren’t appropriate on the ground and proper to protect America, we’re not going to enter into any deal.”