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Trump calls Taliban fighters ‘warriors,’ says chief has difficult task to end violence

President Donald J. Trump signs the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in front of the South Portico of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called Taliban fighters “warriors” and said the extremist group’s leader has a difficult task in trying to get them to end their violent attacks.

“They are warriors, fighters, and have been doing this for thousands of years,” Trump said during a question-and-answer session televised by Fox News on March 5.

“It’s not the easiest leadership position,” Trump said, in an apparent reference to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a Taliban co-founder and the militant group’s political chief.

The U.S. president said there were many “tribes” in Afghanistan and that the Taliban had trouble maintaining control over them.

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Trump on March 3 said he had spoken by phone with the Taliban leader, saying it was a “very good” discussion.

“I spoke to the leader of the Taliban today. We had a good conversation. We’ve agreed there is no violence,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“We had, actually, a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban,” he added after the call.

Meanwhile, other U.S. officials voiced frustration with renewed violence in Afghanistan, saying the Afghan parties to the conflict needed to take advantage of a peace deal signed over the weekend.

“Violence must be reduced immediately for the peace process to move forward,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on March 5. “Do not squander this opportunity.”

Nevertheless, Pompeo said that “we have seen the senior Taliban leadership working diligently to reduce violence from previous levels.”

“So we still have confidence the Taliban leadership is working to deliver on its commitments. We’re working to deliver on ours,” he said.

“What we have urged the parties to do is stop posturing,” he said.

The comments came after the Pentagon said U.S. forces conducted a “defensive” air strike against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan on March 4, as attacks by the militants left at least 32 Afghan security force members dead in at least three provinces.

The wave of violence is threatening to unravel a February 29 agreement signed in Doha between the United States and the Taliban and aimed at ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The deal would allow allied forces to leave the country within 14 months in return for various security commitments from the Taliban and a pledge to hold talks with the Afghan government — which the militant group so far has refused to do.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has warned he was not committed to a key clause in the deal involving the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban said it would not take part in intra-Afghan talks until that provision was met, and Pompeo urged both sides to move forward with prisoner releases.

The United States plans to seek UN Security Council backing for the peace deal, according to AP.

A U.S. draft resolution, seen by the news agency, would welcome the February 28 announcement of the agreement and would encourage “the sustained support” of the UN and international partners for the efforts toward peace in Afghanistan.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told AFP in an interview that “it is a very difficult situation, and the Taliban must honor their commitment. We need to see reduction in violence.”