US President Donald Trump made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to American troops in Afghanistan on Thursday and said he believes Taliban insurgents in the country will agree to a ceasefire.
“The Taliban wants to make a deal and we are meeting with them,” Trump told reporters in Afghanistan after an overnight flight from the US, kept secret for security reasons, Reuters reports.
Trump’s visit was his first to Afghanistan since becoming president and came a week after a prisoner swap between Washington and Kabul that has raised hopes for a long elusive peace deal.
The Air Force One presidential plane touched down at Bagram Airfield late in the evening on Thursday, with White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, a small group of aides and Secret Service agents.
Trump met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and served turkey to some US troops before sitting down to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them.
“What a great job you do. It’s an honor to be here,” he said.
It was only the second trip to a war zone by Trump. In 2018, he had traveled to Iraq for a Christmas holiday visit with troops.
Trump has wanted to end US involvement in Afghanistan since his days as a presidential candidate.
But talks between the Taliban and Washington collapsed in September after Trump called off a planned meeting at the US Camp David presidential retreat, citing a surge in Taliban violence.
The US military says it has ramped up strikes and raids on the Taliban since then, in a bid to pressure the insurgents back to the negotiating table.
Hopes for peace rose earlier this month, when the Taliban released American and Australian hostages.
There are currently about 13,000 US forces as well as thousands of other NATO troops in Afghanistan, 18 years after an invasion by a US-led coalition following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
About 2,400 US service members have been killed in the course of the Afghan conflict.
Trump acknowledged US troop levels were “substantially” coming down but did not provide a specific number.
At the same time, however, he suggested he was willing to have US forces stay in Afghanistan for the long-term, if needed.
“We’re going to stay until such time as we have a deal or we have total victory. And they want to make a deal very badly,” Trump said.
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