Donald Trump’s relationship with the Taliban is – ummm – let’s just call it “complicated”.
In September, Trump invited officials from the group to Camp David on the anniversary of 9/11, optics be damned. That comically ill-conceived idea went awry in spectacular fashion when Trump shocked America by tweeting that “Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders… were going to secretly meet with me”.
Perhaps realizing that what he had tweeted sounded so surreal that people might not believe it, Trump added: “[They were] coming to the United States tonight”.
Ultimately, Trump called off the meeting after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Kabul that killed a dozen people, including an American soldier. But the tweets served as a rather stark reminder that we have truly transcended satire in the Trump era. “#TalibanTrump” was a trending hashtag that day as incredulous netizens mocked the White House.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving and, during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, Trump declared that peace discussions weren’t dead yet. The Taliban “wants to make a deal”, he said, adding that US officials are “meeting with them”.
“We’re saying it has to be a ceasefire. They didn’t want to do a ceasefire and now they want to do a ceasefire”, the president remarked . “I believe it’ll probably work out that way”.
Well, on Monday, the Taliban said they shot down a US military aircraft outside of Kabul, a claim which, if true, would doubtlessly irritate a president who has recently demonstrated a penchant for executing brazen drone attacks without bothering to consult anyone.
Taliban claimed credit for downing the plane in Ghazni. Taliban say the plan was used for espionage purposes & that high ranking CIA officers are killed in the crash. Taliban never had anti-aircraft weapon, the question is how they downed the plane? pic.twitter.com/iRAQteu8r5
— Ahmad Mukhtar (@AhMukhtar) January 27, 2020
Details remained sketchy into the US afternoon, but initially, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said “a special American aircraft which was flying over Afghanistan for an intelligence mission was technically shot down”. That’s according to a WhatsApp message. Mujahid also said “all onboard including high-ranking CIA officers were killed”.
Frankly, that sounds implausible. What would “high-ranking CIA officers” be doing flying around in the snow?
Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan said “the cause of crash is under investigation [but] there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire”. The plane was a Bombardier E-11A.
“Taliban claims that additional aircraft have crashed are false”, Leggett went on to say.
Mujahid would later tell The Washington Post that “our mujahideen [fighters] tactically crashed the plane”. As the Post dryly notes, “he did not explain what tactics were purportedly used to bring down the plane”. The linked piece provides some helpful color:
The E-11A’s mission in Afghanistan is essentially a flying radio tower that helps transmit communications between ground units and commanders, which is often a challenge in mountainous and rugged terrain.
“It’s like WiFi in the sky,” a pilot told the Air Force news service in 2018. All E-11As with that payload are operated solely out of Kandahar Airfield, according to the Air Force.
This may turn out to be nothing (with apologies to the families of anyone who was killed, of course), and you’d certainly think that if the Taliban’s claims were even remotely true, Trump would have already tweeted something about the incident. Here’s the New York Times with a bit more:
The aircraft came down around 1 p.m. local time, officials in Ghazni said, and confusion about even the most basic details continued for hours. The country’s vice president, Sarwar Danish, who said it had been a passenger plane, even expressed “condolences about their martyrdom to the people of Afghanistan.”
But hours later, Alem Shah Ibrahimi, the president of Ariana, said the company’s initial information showed that “all our fleet are located.” Qasim Wafayezadathe, the head of Afghanistan’s civil aviation agency, said it had confirmed that no civilian plane had crashed.
So, “we’ll see what happens”, as Trump would say.
It was just days ago when the Post reported that the Taliban had given Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, a plan to deescalate tensions and resume peace talks.
“Talks restarted in November after [Trump’s] visit to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving, but they were ‘paused’ in December after a Taliban attack on a highly fortified US base”, the Post said last week, adding that after a Taliban attack killed two US service members this month, the above-mentioned Mujahid “touted the attack on Twitter, saying the blast shredded the vehicle and killed the ‘invaders’.”