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Trump Calls Talks With Taliban 'Dead.' What's Next?

Sep 10, 2019
Originally published on September 10, 2019 9:23 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump says negotiations with the Taliban are off, and now the U.S. military is ramping up the fight. Here's what the president said yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We've hit the Taliban harder in the last four days than they've been hit in over 10 years. So that's the way it is.

MARTIN: So what does that mean? Is the Trump administration still trying to find a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan? We've got NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre in studio this morning. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: OK. The peace talks have been called off, at least for the time being. What options does that leave President Trump right now?

MYRE: Well, several things he could possibly do - none of them look very appealing. The U.S. military, along with the Afghan army, could step up their attacks on the Taliban, as we've just heard. But the war has been stalemated. We - really no reason to think this is going to change the military situation. The president could act unilaterally. He could just go ahead and pull those troops out on his own.

MARTIN: Right, he doesn't need a peace deal to do that.

MYRE: Does not, but that would weaken his leverage with the Taliban at a time you're trying to get concessions from them. And he could also reverse course and try to restart the negotiations, but that could really be difficult given what's just happened.

Now, I spoke about this with Dan Feldman. He was U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan under President Obama.

DAN FELDMAN: And yes, there's broad, I think, political support for concluding the war. But I think you've also seen, just over the last few weeks, kind of the series of stakeholders who are concerned about the way in which it is done.

MYRE: So Feldman's referring to everyone from the Afghan government, which, it's important to stress, has not been part of the talks. He's talking about members of Congress, U.S. military commanders, diplomats; they've all been critical.

MARTIN: So you just mentioned the Afghan government there. It is important to note that they haven't been part of this. The democratically elected government in Afghanistan has been left out while the U.S. and the Taliban were directly negotiating their own peace deal. I mean, where is the Afghan leadership at this point? They've also got an election coming up. right?

MYRE: Right. Now, they're hugely frustrated that they weren't included in these talks, and this was supposed to happen after the U.S. and the Taliban reached a deal. But they have this election coming up on September 28. And the president, Ashraf Ghani, wants to hold those election, wants to win and get a mandate. This has been an achievement for Afghanistan to hold these elections. But forging ahead in this environment could result in a lot of violence. The Taliban may step up attacks. And you may have a runoff election. So you could have months of a really chaotic situation.

MARTIN: Tumultuous time.

So we need to recognize that tomorrow marks 18 years since Sept. 11. The Taliban, we all know, provided safe haven for al-Qaida to launch that attack. Is the group the same? Is the Taliban the same today as it was in 2001?

MYRE: I think in fundamental ways, yes. In some cosmetic ways, they've changed. They seem to realize they can't run the country if the U.S. is still there. They don't want a place that's isolated and bankrupt. They may have to allow women to go to school and hold jobs. So at that level, they've made a few changes. But being a group that wants to run the country under Sharia law, they have not changed in that way.

MARTIN: Can you put the Afghan talks in the larger context of President Trump's other negotiations?

MYRE: Now, he's promised to work out some really tough cases and do a deal in which he would be a central figure. And yet, we see this trade war with China still going on. He tore up the nuclear deal with Iran, but nothing has replaced it. He's met with the North Korean leader, but North Korea is still testing missiles. So in all these cases, he said I can do a deal. So far, he hasn't delivered in any of these cases.

MARTIN: OK, Greg, I want to turn our attention to another developing story. There are reports that the CIA removed one of its most valuable spies from Russia - a really valuable spy, someone who allegedly had high - the highest-level kind of access in the Kremlin. What can you tell us?

MYRE: So this Russian spy was reportedly very important for many, many years. He's being described as a key figure in providing information about Russia's interference, including President Vladimir Putin's role, in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Now, CNN reported this story first, and it makes the additional explosive claim that President Trump and his administration's handling of classified information contributed to this decision to bring him out, that they felt he might be be causing a rift there.

However, The New York Times has a different take. It cites anonymous officials saying the CIA first wanted to pull this spy out in late 2016, before the president came into office, and the spy refused. They impressed (ph) him again in 2017, and he agreed to leave with his family.

MARTIN: Are we hearing anything from the White House or the CIA?

MYRE: The White House has not commented so far. The CIA is refusing to confirm or deny anything about an alleged spy, but it did say that it's misguided speculation to say that the president's handling of sensitive intelligence would be driving their decisions one way or another.

MARTIN: What about the government in Russia? And is Russia saying...

MYRE: So - yeah, yeah. The Russians actually have commented a bit. The Kremlin says these U.S. media reports seem to be about someone they describe as a low-level official who did work in Vladimir Putin's administration. He didn't have access to high-level secrets, and he was fired a few years ago. And they're saying these U.S. media reports sound to them like pulp fiction.

MARTIN: NPR national security and intelligence correspondent Greg Myre for us this morning. Thank you so much.

MYRE: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.