US President Donald Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, where he announced the US and the Taliban have been engaged in ongoing peace talks and said he believes the Taliban want a cease-fire.
Trump arrived at Bagram Air Field on Thursday where he delivered a speech and thanked the troops. He also met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani before leaving.
As per tradition, reporters were under strict instructions to keep the trip a secret to ensure the president’s safety in the country, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
First lady Melania Trump did not make the trip.
Trump’s first stop was a dining hall, where the crowd erupted into cheers when he arrived. There, he served turkey to soldiers dressed in fatigues and sat down for a meal.
During his visit, Trump announced that 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 cease-fire. And they don’t want to do a cease-fire, but now they do want to do a cease-fire, I believe ... and we’ll see what happens.”
The trip came after Trump abruptly broke off peace talks with the Taliban in September, canceling 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 a US soldier.
For their part, Taliban leaders have told Reuters that the group has been holding meetings with senior US officials since last weekend, adding they could soon resume formal peace talks.
"We are hoping that Trump's visit to Afghanistan will prove that he is serious to start talks again. We don't think he has not much of a choice," said a senior Taliban commander on conditions of anonymity.
Also, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed on Friday they were "ready to restart the talks".
"Our stance is still the same. If peace talks start, it will be resumed from the stage where it had stopped," Mujahid said.
There are currently about 13,000 US forces as well as thousands of other NATO troops in Afghanistan, according to Reuters.
About 2,400 US service members have been killed in the course of the Afghan conflict.