KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) — The Taliban on Tuesday vowed to continue fighting against U.S. forces in Afghanistan after President Donald Trump said talks with the insurgents were “dead,” and said Washington would regret abandoning negotiations.
The renewed war of words between the two sides raised the specter of violence in Afghanistan as Trump and the Taliban pledged to take the fight to each other after the precipitous collapse of talks.
“We had two ways to end occupation in Afghanistan, one was jihad and fighting, the other was talks and negotiations,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Agence France-Presse.
“If Trump wants to stop talks, we will take the first way and they will soon regret it.”
The Taliban statement came hours after Trump told reporters that he was walking away from negotiations after nearly a year of talks that aimed to pave the way for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan after 18 years of war.
“They are dead. As far as I am concerned, they are dead,” Trump said at the White House.
The announcement followed Trump’s cancellation of a top-secret plan to fly Taliban leaders in for direct talks at the Camp David presidential retreat outside Washington.
Driving another nail into the coffin of what had appeared to be nearly finalized negotiations, Trump said a U.S. military onslaught on the guerrillas was at its fiercest level in a decade.
“Over the last four days, we have been hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years!” he wrote in a tweet.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday, “We’ve killed over 1,000 Taliban in just the last 10 days.”
Trump angrily denied that the whiplash effect of his sudden shifts on Afghanistan was causing turmoil.
Until this weekend, there had been steadily mounting expectations of a deal that would see the United States draw down troop levels in Afghanistan.
In return, the Taliban were to offer security guarantees to keep extremist groups out.
But on Saturday, Trump revealed that he had canceled an unprecedented meeting between the Taliban and him at Camp David.
He said it was in retaliation for the killing of a U.S. soldier by the Taliban in a huge Kabul bomb blast last week.
The cancellation, announced on Twitter, was the first time Americans learned that such a dramatic meeting was even planned.
Many in Washington were shocked and some were angry that the Taliban had been about to visit the presidential retreat on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
There was also widespread consternation at the characteristically unpredictable manner of Trump’s negotiating style.
But Trump denied any discord among government members. In a tweet, he accused reporters of trying “to create the look of turmoil in the White House, of which there is none.”
Trump said he had no second thoughts about his actions. “In terms of advisers, I took my own advice,” he said.
A big part of Trump’s 2016 election victory and subsequent first term in office has been his determination to keep the United States out of what he sees as unnecessary wars in Syria and other, mostly Muslim, countries.
Despite a fiercely pro-Israeli foreign policy and the presence of hawks such as national security adviser John Bolton in his cabinet, he has so far resisted escalating the military standoff with longtime foe Iran.
Getting out of Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have fought a largely fruitless battle against the Taliban for nearly two decades, was a top priority.
It is widely thought that Trump has been pushing for a withdrawal of U.S. troops in time for his 2020 reelection bid.
Trump repeated on Monday that he wanted “to get out by the earliest possible time.”
However, whether because of last week’s killing of a U.S. soldier, as he says, or due to wider misgivings, that goal now appears in tatters.
“They did a mistake,” Trump said of the Taliban’s deadly bomb attack.
Several right-wing Republican lawmakers concurred with the president’s decision on the talks.
“I’ve never believed that a deal with the Taliban is either easy or imminent,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson said he was “glad” the talks were not held there.
“I don’t see where those negotiations go. At some point in time if you want peace you have to talk to them, I don’t deny that,” Johnson said. “But right now they’re murdering too many people.”
© Agence France-Presse