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“They are dead, they are dead,” Trump told reporters on the White House south lawn. “As far as I’m concerned, they are dead.”
On Saturday night, the president announced that he cancelled a meeting with Taliban leaders, and separately, the president of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, after the Taliban took credit for a car bombing that killed a United States service member and eleven others. For months, the United States has been negotiating a peace deal that would potentially bring an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history.
As the peace deal was reaching the final stretch of negotiations, the president, who views himself as a masterful deal-maker, wanted to play a role in the talks himself.
“They thought they had to kill people in order to put themselves in a little better negotiating position,” Trump said. “When I heard, very simply, that they killed one of our soldiers and 12 other innocent people, I said ‘There is no way I’m meeting on that basis. There is no way I’m meeting.’ They did a mistake. And by the way they are telling people they made a big mistake. They are saying it loud and clear that they made a big mistake.”
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. They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019
Despite saying talks with the Taliban are now off the table, the president said discussions are ongoing with the Afghan government. The Afghan government said that they welcomed the president’s decision to cancel a meeting with the Taliban, but said they fear it could lead to more violence.
“Unfortunately, the war will intensify too, but at the rate the Taliban have been dying they cannot last long,” the Afghans said in a statement.
It’s been unclear where the decision to squelch peace talks leaves his longstanding campaign promise to draw down troops. A White House official said the president, who has said he plans to lower the number of troops in Afghanistan down to 8,600, is considering a potential withdrawal plan that does not include a peace deal with the Taliban.
“We are looking at that, and we are thinking about that,” Trump said of pulling troops out of Afghanistan. “We would like to get out, but we will get out at the right time.”
The president’s invitation to host the Taliban at Camp David, the storied presidential retreat in rural Maryland, was met with criticism by Republicans, Democrats, and reportedly, even some of his own senior advisers. The president decided to host the meeting at Camp David after a session a week ago at the White House with national security advisers, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, according to an administration official.
But Trump denied that he rejected advice from Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton to not hold the meetings. Instead, Trump took credit for the idea to host the militant group at Camp David and noted it was better to meet there than the White House.
“No actually, in terms of advisers I took my own advice,” Trump said. “I liked the idea of meeting. I’ve met with a lot of bad people and a lot of good people during the course of the last almost three years.”
“There have been plenty of so-called bad people brought up to Camp David for meetings. And the alternative was the White House and you wouldn’t have been happy with that either,” Trump said.
A spokesperson for the vice president did not deny that he encouraged the president to not meet with the Taliban at Camp David, and said in a statement Pence “reserves his counsel for the President, and anyone claiming to know his thoughts on the matter aside from the President is mistaken.”
The vice president tweeted, “That’s Absolutely Right Mr. President. More Fake News! The Dishonest Media never contacted our office before running with this story and if they had, we would have told them I FULLY support your decision.”
That’s Absolutely Right Mr. President. More Fake News! The Dishonest Media never contacted our office before running with this story and if they had, we would have told them I FULLY support your decision. https://t.co/zjzro1fzSg
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) September 9, 2019
Some Republicans breathed a sigh of relief that the talks were called off.
“I think it’s pretty clear the Taliban is not a reliable negotiating party. It wouldn’t have been my choice to have them come to Camp David, particularly now. Hopefully we’ll find a way forward,” Sen. Mitt Romney said.
“Now, I don’t know the details of the meeting with the Taliban, who started it, who was invited, but I do know this: we shouldn’t be negotiating with a group that’s killing young Americans at the same time,” said Sen. Joe Kennedy of Louisiana.
ABC News’ Conor Finnegan, Jordyn Phelps, and Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.