Erin Schaff/The New York Times
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — President Trump paid an unannounced Thanksgiving visit to American troops here on Thursday and said that he had restarted peace negotiations with the Taliban less than three months after he scuttled talks with the group.
“The Taliban wants to make a deal, and we’re meeting with them,” Mr. Trump said here during a meeting with Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani.
“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,” said Mr. Trump, who reaffirmed his desire to reduce America’s troop presence here to 8,600, down from about 12,000 to 13,000.
Mr. Trump’s suggestion that the United States would either reach a peace with the Taliban or achieve “total victory” is a sharp departure from his public frustrations with what he has called America’s unending wars. American military leaders and diplomats have long ruled out the possibility of a military victory in Afghanistan. To the contrary, they say, a political settlement is the only way out of the war.
Mr. Trump made his first visit to Afghanistan under a shroud of secrecy, arriving in a darkened airplane just after 8:30 p.m. local time and departing a few hours later on a trip that the White House had concealed from his public schedule for security reasons.
Mr. Trump carried out the traditional role of feeding turkey and mashed potatoes to American troops in fatigues, before dining, mingling and posing for photographs before he delivered remarks celebrating America’s military in an aircraft hangar.
But his visit also had an important political dimension, and comes at a crossroads for Afghanistan and the United States military presence here after Mr. Trump angrily called off his talks with the Taliban in September, which had come close to reaching an agreement that would begin the phased withdrawal of American forces from the country.
Mr. Trump, who boasted of American military successes against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, suggested that the Taliban is eager to make a peace deal, but that he himself is indifferent to that outcome.
“The Taliban wants to make a deal — we’ll see if they make a deal. If they do, they do, and if they don’t they don’t. That’s fine,” Mr. Trump said.
He also said that the Taliban is now willing to agree to a cease-fire, a matter of contention in the earlier talks and something that Mr. Ghani’s government has been insistent upon.
“We’re saying it has to be a cease-fire, and they didn’t want to do a cease-fire,” Mr. Trump said of the Afghan insurgents. “Now they do want to do a cease-fire. I believe it’ll probably work out that way.”
Mr. Ghani said later on Twitter that in his meeting with Mr. Trump, “Both sides underscored that if the Taliban are sincere in their commitment to reaching a peace deal, they must accept a ceasefire.” He did not mention Mr. Trump announcement that he had restarted talks with the Taliban.American diplomats have […]