US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the US had resumed talks with Taliban insurgents as he made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with US troops.
"The Taliban wants to make a deal and we're meeting with them and we're saying it has to be a ceasefire and they didn't want to do a ceasefire and now they do want to do a ceasefire," he told reporters.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban on Trump's assertions.
On his first trip to the site of America's longest war, Trump arrived at Bagram Air Field shortly after 8:30 pm local time on Thursday and spent more than two-and-a-half hours on the ground, serving turkey, thanking the troops and sitting down with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
As per tradition, reporters were under strict instructions to keep the trip a secret to ensure his safety in the country. About 12,000 US forces remain in Afghanistan.
TRT World's Sally Ayhan has more.
'We're meeting with them'
Traveling with a small clutch of aides, including his acting chief of staff, press secretary and national security adviser, but not the first lady, Trump appeared in good spirits as he was escorted around the base by heavily armed soldiers, as the smell of burning fuel and garbage wafted through the chilly air.
His first stop was a dining hall where he plated turkey and sat down for a meal.
During his visit, Trump said the US and Taliban have been engaged in peace talks and insisted the Taliban want to make a deal after heavy US fire in recent months.
"We're meeting with them," he said. "And we're saying it has to be a ceasefire ... and we'll see what happens."
The trip comes after 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 nearly yearlong effort by the US to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, the group that protected Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, prompting US military action after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The US and international forces have been on the ground ever since.
Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and more than 2,400 American service members have been killed since the war began 18 years ago.
Just last week, Trump flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to oversee the transfer of remains of two Army officers killed when their helicopter crashed as they provided security for troops on the ground in Logar Province in eastern Afghanistan.
The Taliban still controls or holds sway over about half of the country, staging near-daily attacks targeting Afghan forces and government officials.
The US and Taliban had been close to an agreement in September that might have enabled a US troop withdrawal.
Trump said he was proceeding with a plan to reduce US troop levels to about 8,600, telling reporters "we're bringing down the number of troops substantially."
Still, he said, the US will stay in the country "until we have a deal or we have total victory."
The White House took pains to keep the trip a secret after Trump's cover was blown last year when Air Force One was spotted en route to Iraq by an amateur British flight watcher.
Cell phones and other transmitting devices were confiscated for the duration of the trip from everyone traveling aboard Air Force One. And Thanksgiving-themed tweets were teed up to publish ahead of time from Trump's account to prevent suspicions arising about the president's silence.
A small group of reporters was told to meet Wednesday night on the top floor of a parking garage and transported in black vans to Andrews Air Force Base. Meanwhile, the president was secretly flying back from Florida, where reporters had been told he'd be spending Thanksgiving at his Mar-a-Lago club.