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Trump Says Peace Talks With Taliban Have Resumed On Unannounced Trip To Afghanistan


On this holiday, President Trump gave thanks in Afghanistan.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's nowhere I'd rather celebrate this Thanksgiving than right here with the toughest, strongest, best and bravest warriors on the face of the Earth. You are, indeed, that.

SHAPIRO: The unannounced trip was Trump's first visit to Afghanistan, where more than 12,000 American troops are serving. He took time to recognize individual units and their accomplishments.


TRUMP: Task Force Loyalty - I like that. I like that name. Task Force Hikino (ph).


TRUMP: Hikino - where are you, Hikino?

SHAPIRO: In all, the president spent a few hours at Bagram Air Base. He served turkey to troops, ate some mashed potatoes and met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. And he actually made some news, which is why we've called NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson away from her Thanksgiving. Thanks, Mara. Good to have you here.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. Happy Thanksgiving.

SHAPIRO: Same to you. So President Trump announced today that talks with the Taliban are back on. Here's what he said about it.


TRUMP: The Taliban wants to make a deal. We'll see if they want to make a deal. It's got to be a real deal, but we'll see.

SHAPIRO: This comes just a few months after Trump called off what had been, apparently, close to a peace deal. Did he explain what changed his mind about the prospect?

LIASSON: No, he didn't. He called off those earlier talks. He was about to invite the Taliban to Camp David, and that was quite controversial inside his own administration. It was one of the many reasons that John Bolton ended up being removed from his post as the national security adviser. He was against the Taliban coming to Camp David.

But the president said that we're going to stay in Afghanistan, quote, "until such time as we have a deal or we have total victory and they want to make a deal very badly." Trump usually says that about anyone he's negotiating with, like China or, in this case, the Taliban. It's unclear what he means by total victory. He's never defined it. Of course, President Bush and President Obama never did, either. That's one of the big problems with Afghanistan.

But he says that peace talks are back on, and one of the big questions is whether they will involve the Afghan government or not. Those peace talks that were canceled - the ones where the Taliban almost came to Camp David - did not include the Afghan government. And, of course, the Afghan government didn't like that one bit.

SHAPIRO: Presidential visits to troops in war zones are kind of a holiday tradition. I did one with President Obama when I was a White House correspondent. What was the reception like at Bagram today?

LIASSON: He got, according to our own Franco Ordonez, who was the pool reporter on this trip, he got a very positive, rousing welcome from the dining hall full of troops. About 500 soldiers were there to eat turkey and mashed potatoes with the president. He took selfies with the troops.

And one thing that was different from his last visit to the troops - this is his second visit to troops in a combat zone. The first one was last Christmas in Iraq. There were a lot of Make America Great Again hats in the crowd. But there weren't any this time.

SHAPIRO: And did he have a specific message for the troops? I mean, did he talk about how much longer they might be there?

LIASSON: Well, he certainly talked about wanting to bring troops home, and that is something that he promised to do as a candidate and he's been struggling to do. He abruptly withdrew a lot of troops from Syria. He's talked about bringing troops home from Afghanistan, although they're still - he says there are going to be about 8,600 troops that will be left there. But he said that he will fulfill that campaign promise. He said to the troops, that day is coming and coming soon.

SHAPIRO: Of course, this visit comes in the middle of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry. He's also had a tumultuous week with his own military leadership in the debate over the Navy SEALs. What's a trip like this gain the president?

LIASSON: I think any time the president can be seen as commander in chief, especially with enlisted soldiers, it's good for him. It's one of his most positive roles and his most respected roles, and I think that it should be a positive for the president.

And as you said, this comes not just during the impeachment hearing but also after he's clashed with top military leaders over the abrupt pullout from Syria and over the firing and the handling of the firing of a Navy SEAL. Trump intervened in a military justice procedure, and not all of the military brass was happy about that.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson on the president's unannounced visit to Afghanistan today to celebrate Thanksgiving with the troops. Mara, we'll let you get back to your Thanksgiving. Thanks a lot.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.