Donald Trump paid a surprise visit to US troops stationed in Afghanistan where he announced that the US and the Taliban have been engaged in ongoing peace talks and are close to making a deal.
In his first visit to the country, Mr Trump arrived at Bagram Air Field shortly after 8.30 pm local time Thursday and spent more than three-and-a-half hours on the ground, serving turkey to troops in celebration of the American Thanksgiving holiday.
He also met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and revealed that the US has resumed talks with the Taliban, who are prepared to agree on a ceasefire.
"The Taliban wants to make a deal and we’re meeting with them and we’re saying it has to be a cease fire and they didn’t want to do a cease fire and now they do want to do a cease fire," Mr Trump said. "I believe it’ll probably work out that way."
The trip comes after Mr Trump abruptly broke off peace talks with the Taliban in September, cancelling a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders at the Camp David presidential retreat after a particularly deadly spate of violence, capped by a bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier.
That ended a months-long US effort to broker an agreement with the Taliban that might have enabled a US troop withdrawal. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and more than 2,400 American service members have been killed since the war began 18 years ago.
Around 12,000 US forces remain stationed in the country, but Mr Trump, who campaigned on a promise to bring America’s "endless wars" to a close, said he was proceeding with a plan to reduce the number to about 8,600. But he insisted that US troops will stay in the country "until we have a deal or we have total victory".
The White House went to great lengths to keep Mr Trump’s trip a secret after the president’s cover was blown last year when Air Force One was spotted en route to Iraq by an amateur British flight watcher.
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The White House had said the president would be spending Thanksgiving at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida as usual when in fact he was secretly preparing to travel to Afghanistan from Andrews Air Base in Maryland.
The Air Force One plane Mr Trump had flown to Florida remained parked on the tarmac at West Palm Beach Airport to avoid revealing the president’s movement.
About 9.45 pm on Wednesday, the president boarded a nearly identical plane concealed in a hangar at Andrews Air Base, taking off and landing under the cover of darkness, with cabin lights dimmed and window shutters drawn.
Mr Trump travelled to Afghanistan with a small clutch of aides, including his acting chief of staff, press secretary and national security adviser. Mrs Trump remained behind in Mar-a-Lago.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said plans for the visit had been in the works for weeks. "It’s a dangerous area and he wants to support the troops," she said. "He and Mrs Trump recognise that there’s a lot of people who are away from their families during the holidays and we thought it’d be a nice surprise."