Trump thanks troops in Afghanistan, says Taliban want a deal

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

President Donald Trump accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, right, serves dinner during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

BAGRAM AIR FIELD – President Donald Trump paid a surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan, where he announced the U.S. 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 shortly after 8:30 p.m. local time Thursday and spent 3½ hours on the ground during his first trip to the site of America’s longest war. He served turkey and thanked the troops, delivered a speech and sat down with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani before leaving just after midnight. He arrived back in Florida, where he is spending the holiday weekend, early Friday morning local time.

As per tradition, reporters were under strict instructions to keep the trip a secret to ensure the president’s safety in Afghanistan. About 12,000 U.S. forces remain in the country.

Traveling with Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming and a small clutch of aides, including his acting chief of staff, press secretary and national security adviser, 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. Unlike last year’s post-Christmas visit to Iraq — his first to an active combat zone — 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. But he said he only tasted the mashed potatoes before he was pulled away for photos.

“I never got the turkey,” he told the troops. “A gorgeous piece of turkey.”

During his visit, Trump announced that the U.S. and Taliban have been engaged in peace talks and insisted the Taliban want to make a deal after heavy U.S. 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.”