President Donald Trump and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s chief negotiator and one of its founding members, spoke by telephone on Tuesday amid reports that the Taliban had resumed violence in Afghanistan days after the US and Taliban signed a historic agreement in Qatar.
Trump confirmed the call as he departed the White House Tuesday afternoon, telling reporters he “had a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban.”
“I spoke to the leader of the Taliban today, we had a good conversation, we have agreed there is no violence, don’t want violence. We will see what happens. They’re dealing with Afghanistan but we will see what happens,” Trump said.
“The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah,” Trump added in later comments at the National Institutes of Health. “They want to cease the violence, they’d like to cease violence also.”
His comments come as the Taliban have resumed hostilities in Afghanistan, carrying out 33 attacks in the past day, according to the Interior Ministry. Marwa Amini, a deputy spokeswoman for the ministry, said there were attacks in 16 provinces, targeting civilians and security forces.
Six civilians were killed and 14 others were wounded in those attacks, she said, and Afghan security forces killed eight Taliban insurgents, and injured and arrested another 15.
The resumption of violence comes days after US and Taliban negotiators signed a deal on Saturday aimed at withdrawing US forces and spurring the start of intra-Afghan negotiations. Saturday’s signing came after the completion of a week-long “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan. Before the “reduction” agreement there were on average more than 100 attacks a day, according to an Afghan government official close to the process.
US officials have stressed their expectation that such a reduction continue throughout intra-Afghan negotiations. However, this condition is not explicitly written into the text of the agreement. It instead says that “a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations.” That dialogue is meant to start on March 10, according to the agreement, but there are signs that the start date could be scuttled.
Asked on Monday night about the Taliban saying they would resume operations against Afghan forces, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Just watch what really happens. Pay less attention to statements, pay less attention to things people say. Watch what happens on the ground.”
“There’s been a lot of work done at detailed levels about how this will proceed,” he told Fox News. “I’m sure we’ll have days when we stare at it and say the problem is big, but we’re determined.”
Speaking at a briefing at the Pentagon Monday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley said, “I would caution everybody to think that there’s going to be an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan. That is probably not going to happen. It’s probably not going to go to zero.”
Some Republicans in Congress on Tuesday raised concerns and skepticism about the deal. Sen. Lindsey Graham, reacting to reports about Taliban violence, said, “Always suspicious of the Taliban when it came to any peace agreement, but can’t believe they’re this stupid.”
“Must keep all options on the table when it comes to ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorists. Must remember the Taliban set the conditions for 9/11,” the South Carolina Republican and staunch Trump ally wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Liz Cheney, who led 21 other Republicans in expressing “serious concerns” prior to the signing, said on Tuesday that her worries had not been assuaged, even after reading the secret, unpublished parts of the deal.
“(Pompeo) made assertions including that there were complex, interlocking verification mechanisms. He asserted that there would be a full and complete renunciation of al-Qaeda by the Taliban. I’ve read the documents and my concerns remain. I’m not going to talk about what’s in the documents, a number of them are classified, as you know, but the documents that have been sent to the Hill do not include those things,” she said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
A senior administration official told reporters last week that the unpublished parts of the deal would not contain any additional commitments to the Taliban, but rather “some confidential procedures for implementation and verification of the agreement itself.”
Trump’s conversation with Baradar – which the Taliban said lasted more than half an hour – comes as the US President has said he would meet with members of the militant group. Trump told reporters at a White House news conference Saturday that he would be “meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not too distant future” following the signing of the agreement.
Taliban spokesperson Muhammad Suhail Shaheen told CNN that the group’s leader could meet Trump in the coming days or weeks. He said the Taliban had accepted Trump’s invitation for talks in the US and that the US President had set the agenda for the meeting and “of course this will be shared with us through proper channel and we will have own opinion about that. And then it will take place.”
The White House has yet to reveal any details about that meeting.
CNN’s Ehsan Popalzai, Jason Hoffman and Nic Robertson contributed to this report.