(CNSNews.com) – President Trump said Monday he opposes talks with the Taliban, signaling an apparent departure from U.S. Afghanistan policy in the aftermath of two deadly terrorist attacks in Kabul.
“I don’t see any talking taking place. I don’t think we’re prepared to talk right now,” Trump said at a luncheon meeting with U.N. Security Council ambassadors at the White House.
“When we see what they’re doing and the atrocities that they’re committing, and killing their own people, and those people are women and children – many, many women and children that are totally innocent – it’s horrible,” he said.
“So there’s no talking to the Taliban. We don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it.”
Trump also said that there may be a time for talks, “but it’s going to be a long time.”
The terrorist group responded to Trump’s comments in a post on one of its Twitter accounts, directed at the president.
“Let us know when you’re ready to talk to discuss your exit,” the Taliban said. “Soon is better before it becomes very ugly for you in Afghanistan. You know how to reach us through our office in Doha.”
Under Trump, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan – more than 16 years after the post-9/11 invasion to dislodge the Taliban – has risen from 8,500 to 14,000.
U.S. policy, including under Trump, has been to increase military pressure on the terrorist group to push it towards the negotiating table in an Afghan-led process. Conditions are that Taliban leaders agree to renounce violence, abandon their alliance with al-Qaeda, and abide by the constitution of Afghanistan, including its protections for women and minorities.
That policy was underlined by Defense Secretary James Mattis last September, when he became the first senior administration official to visit Kabul after Trump announced a new strategy for South Asia the previous month that included the goal of “preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan.”
“I want to reinforce to the Taliban that the only path to peace and political legitimacy for them is through a negotiated settlement,” Mattis said at the time.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told reporters at the U.N. on January 17 that during a recent visit to Afghanistan by Security Council ambassadors, “we are seeing that we’re closer to talks with the Taliban and the peace process than we’ve seen before.”
“We really are going to work toward a peace process, with the goal being that we do not want Afghanistan to be a safe haven for terrorism anymore,” she said.
Two days later Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan reiterated the administration’s position, telling the Security Council that “victory cannot be won on the battlefield – a solution is and must be political.”
Sullivan repeated the long-established conditions for a peace settlement – “an absolute commitment from the Taliban that they will cut ties to terrorism, cease violence, and accept the Afghan constitution.”
“We must recognize the reality that, while the Afghan government has been adamant about its interest in initiating peace talks with the Taliban, there has been no reciprocal interest on the part of the Taliban,” he said. “That must change.”
Sullivan said that to do so, the international community must “work together to isolate the Taliban, eliminate their sources of revenue and equipment, and demonstrate with a united and unwavering commitment that the only place they can achieve their objectives will be at the negotiating table – not on the battlefield.”
A day after Sullivan’s remarks, the Taliban launched an armed assault on the Intercontinental hotel in Kabul, an attack that left dozens dead – including 17 foreigners, four of them Americans.
On Saturday the Taliban struck again in the Afghan capital, detonating a bomb packed in an ambulance in a busy area at lunch hour, killing at least 103 people. Afghanistan’s intelligence chief pointed a finger at Pakistan, which Afghanistan and the U.S. accuse of colluding with the Taliban.
Health authorities say many of the victims in Saturday’s bombing have yet to be identified. But many are believed to be civilians, and among the hundreds of people injured in the attack were patients and medical staff at a nearby hospital.
The Taliban had disputed reports about the victims being innocent Afghans, saying the attack was planned and carried out to target government workers which it described as “the enemy.”
“We understand that the failed and bruised enemy seeks to paint such assaults as attacks on civilians therefore it has forced media outlets to broadcast reports and images of civilian instead of military losses,” the terrorist group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in a statement.
The statement was silent about the use of a vehicle designed to look like an ambulance, which would amount to a war crime and violation of international humanitarian law.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has a very clear message for Trump and his stooges. If you want to play power politics and talk through the barrel of the gun, then do not expect roses from the Afghans either and await such replies,” Mujahid said. “But if you understand principles of logic and understanding then know that we have a clear policy about peaceful politics and understanding.”