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Here’s What You Need to Know About the Canceled U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks

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  • President Trump tweeted Saturday that he canceled secretly scheduled peace negotiations with the Taliban.
  • The proposed peace deal involved the U.S. taking troops out of Afghanistan and the Taliban promising to no longer engage in violence in areas where the U.S. military is present.
  • Many opposed the plan and the meeting, including officials in the Trump administration who worried the Taliban could not be trusted.
  • Afghan officials were also skeptical of the plan, arguing that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

Trump’s Announcement

President Donald Trump announced in a series of tweets on Saturday that he had canceled a secret meeting between U.S. officials and the Taliban.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday” the president wrote on Twitter. 

“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people,” he continued. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” he concluded.

Here’s what you need to know about the agreement, the talks, and what comes next.

The Agreement

Under the agreement, which officials have been negotiating for almost a year, the U.S. would remove 5,400 of the remaining 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan within 135 days.

The broader goal of the deal would be to gradually withdraw the entire U.S. military presence, which has been in the country for nearly 18 years since the 9/11 attacks. In exchange for the U.S. withdrawing the troops, the Taliban would stop enacting and supporting violence in the regions of Afghanistan where the U.S. military is based.

Last Monday, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told local media in the country that both sides had agreed to the deal “in principle.” 

However, many people in the Afghan government, including President Ashraf Ghani, were skeptical of both the peace deal and the meeting at Camp David.

Afghan critics of the agreement argued that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not really give them a seat at the table for negotiations.

The Trump administration addressed this concern by arguing that its talks with the Taliban would pave the way for the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

But others worried that plan was problematic because the Taliban does not recognize the Afghan government, and has refused to negotiate with them in the past.

Those critical of the plan also argued that the deal only protected American troops because it did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

That is especially important because the Taliban now controls more territory in the country than it has at any time since the war started, and also because the Taliban has carried out and supported numerous deadly attacks over the last few months.

Now, Afghan officials are worried that if the U.S. pulled out, it would create a sort of security vacuum, leaving the Afghan military to fend for itself. They fear that, as a result, the Taliban would not only launch more violent attacks but also try to take over the government.

Opposition In Trump Administration

Afghan officials were not the only people who opposed the negotiations.

According to reports, multiple high-ranking officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton, also did not support the meeting. 

Bolton, among others, allegedly did not believe that the Taliban could be trusted and so the deal would just collapse anyway. 

Other administration officials who did not want the meeting reportedly worried about the optics of having an unprecedented meeting with a militant group on U.S. soil just days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

One senior administration official also told NBC that Pence had argued the meeting could also send a bad message to members of the U.S. military and their families, especially those who had fought and been killed by the Taliban.

Taliban & Afghan Government Responds

After Trump’s tweets, a leader from the Taliban told NBC they were caught off guard by the news.

“It not only shocked us it made us realize the people we were talking with were not sincere in peace talks,” the leader said.

On Sunday, the Taliban also released an official statement on the matter.

Such a reaction towards a single attack just before the signing of an agreement displays lack of composure and experience,” the statement read.

“We called for dialogue twenty years earlier and maintain the same stance today and believe America shall return to this position also,” it continued. “Our previous eighteen-year resistance should have proven to America that we will accept nothing less than the complete end of occupation and allowing Afghans to decide their own fate.”

President Ghani has not responded specifically to Trump’s tweets, but his office released a formal statement on Sunday.

“The people and the government of Afghanistan pursue a dignified and sustainable peace and are committed to putting any effort into ensuring peace in the country,” it said. “We have consistently stressed that genuine peace is possible when the Taliban stop the killing of Afghans, embrace an inclusive ceasefire, and enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government.”

“The government of Afghanistan praises the earnest efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other partners to ensure honorable and enduring peace in the country,” the statement continued.

Conflicts on Cancelation Reasons

While speaking to news outlets Sunday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s comments by insisting that the reason the negotiations were canceled was because of the most recent Taliban attack.

However, a report from The New York Times suggested there could have been other factors. Citing Pompeo’s negotiator, the Times said the Taliban wanted to go to Washington, but not until after their deal had been announced. 

Trump, however, did not want their visit to be a celebration of the deal, instead, he “wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.”

What Next?

The breakdown of peace talks with the Taliban has left many wondering what comes next.

During Pompeo’s major news circuit Sunday, he provided some insight into that question. When asked by a Fox News anchor if Afghan talks were dead, Pompeo responded, “For the time being they are.”

However, he also told CNN that the U.S. is still interested in striking a deal, as long as the Taliban honors its commitments.

Right now for the U.S., it looks like it has three main options. It could try to come to the table with another deal, it could withdraw the troops without concessions from the Taliban, or the U.S. could just keep the troops in Afghanistan.

As for Afghanistan, it is set to have elections later this month, on September 28.

The Taliban does not want those elections to take place, and now, officials in both the U.S. and Afghanistan are concerned that the Taliban will have more incentive to ramp up their violent attacks as the election approaches.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (VICE) (NBC News)

International

E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention

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  • The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
  • Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
  • Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.

The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.

  • Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
  • Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
  • Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
  • Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.

Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.

First Step For Biden

These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.

One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”

“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.

The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.

He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (NBC News)

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Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria

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  • On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
  • The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
  • Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
  • The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Striking Back Against Militias

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.

The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.

Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.

For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.

Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.

In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.

Public Perception in a Downward Spiral

Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.

Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation

“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”

Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”

However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.

All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.

Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NBC) (CNN)

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Nigerian Gunmen Kidnap Over 300 Students From Boarding School

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  • Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a Nigerian boarding school early Friday morning, making it the second major abduction in the northwest area of the country in over a week.
  • Militants loaded some girls on trucks while others were walked into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of miles and is spread over three states.
  • Authorities believe these abductions are being carried out by armed bandit groups seeking random rather than the jihadist groups in the region.
  • According to terror analysts, kidnapping is quickly becoming one of the most thriving industries in Nigeria and has led to 10.5 million Nigerian children being out of school – the most of any nation.

Abductions Before Dawn

Gunmen abducted 317 students early Friday morning from the Nigerian Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state.

They entered the building shooting, although it’s clear if anyone was hurt, and forced many girls onto trucks while others into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of square miles and crosses multiple states. Some girls escaped, but by morning it was clear to the local community that hundreds were taken.

Zamfara police and security forces, backed by Nigerian army reinforcements, said they are in pursuit of the abductors.

This abduction is the second in a little over a week in the northwest area of the country. At the Kagara Government Science College in Niger state, dozens of schoolboys were abducted on February 17.

In December, 344 boys in Katsina state were also abducted before being freed a week later. At the time, the kidnappers claimed a ransom had been paid, a common motivation for such abductions, but security forces say the children were freed after they had surrounded the group.

Was the Kidnapping for Ransom?

Many abductions have a monetary aspect, with ransoms quickly being demanded; however, it’s currently unclear if Friday’s events were carried out by local bandits looking for a payout or one of the nation’s myriad of jihadist groups that occasionally take hostages.

Most are leaning towards believing this was a kidnapping for ransom due to it quickly becoming the nation’s most thriving industry, according to Bulama Bukarti, a terror analyst and columnist of northern Nigeria’s largest paper.

Unfortunately, the constant kidnapping in less-stable parts of the country, along with economic hardships, have caused parents to pull their children out of schools. Currently, there are more than 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school, the most of any nation. The issue is so prevalent that 1 in 5 of the world’s unschooled children are in Nigeria.

The government has struggled to respond to the rise of kidnappings, with officials both on the civilian side and within the military unsure of how to proceed. On one hand, there are those who want to deal with the issue head-on and attack kidnappers, but others want to try and resolve the issue with dialogue.

See what others are Saying: (NPR) (CNN) (Wall Street Journal)

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