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President Donald Trump makes surprise Thanksgiving visit to US troops in Afghanistan
28 November 2019, 23:00
President Donald Trump has paid a surprise Thanksgiving visit to US troops stationed in Afghanistan.
In his first trip to the site of America's longest war, President Trump announced the US and Taliban have been engaged in ongoing peace talks.
He arrived at Bagram Air Field shortly after 8.30pm local time and spent more than two-and-a-half hours 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 troops remain in Afghanistan.
President Trump appeared in good spirits as he was escorted around the base by heavily armed soldiers and a small group of aides.
His first stop was a dining hall where he plated turkey and sat down for a meal.
During his visit, President 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.
He said: "We're meeting with them and we're saying it has to be a ceasefire.
“And they don't want to do a ceasefire, but now they do want to do a ceasefire, I believe... and we'll see what happens."
The trip comes after President Trump abruptly broke off peace talks with the Taliban in September, cancelling a secret meeting with leaders after a spate of violence that killed 12 people, including an American soldier.
That ended a nearly year-long effort by the US to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, the group that protected al-Qaeda extremists in Afghanistan, prompting US military action after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
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.
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.
President Trump said he was proceeding with a plan to reduce US troop levels to about 8,600, telling reporters "we are bringing down the number of troops substantially".
But 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 President Trump's cover was blown last year when Air Force One was spotted en route to Iraq by an amateur British flight watcher.