US Defense Secretary in Afghanistan, Perhaps to Reboot Taliban Talks
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper is in Afghanistan to meet American troops and hold discussions with Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani. Another focus of the unannounced trip, however, could be coaxing leaders of the Taliban to return to talks aimed at paving the way to an exit by US troops. “The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement. That is the best way forward,” Esper told journalists in his retinue. “I hope we can move forward and come up with a political agreement that meets our ends and meets the goals we want to achieve.” Esper made clear, however, that the negotiations themselves fall under the purview of the State Department. Talks with the Taliban broke down in September after US President Donald Trump invited them – and then disinvited them – to Camp David at around the time of the anniversary of 9/11. Many critics felt the move wholly inappropriate because the Islamist group had sheltered many members of al-Qaida, including its leader, Osama bin Laden, subsequent to the 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington.