President Donald Trump on Wednesday used his remarks at a memorial service marking the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to bring up his dashed peace talks with the Taliban.
Speaking at a ceremony at the Pentagon, the president reiterated his position that he wants to bring the ensuing military conflict in the Middle East to an end, but pointed to a deadly Taliban attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, last week to justify his sudden cancellation of peace talks that were set to take place at Camp David last weekend.
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“We do not seek conflict. But if anyone dares to strike our land, we will respond with the full measure of American power and the iron will of the American spirit and that spirit is unbreakable,” he said during an otherwise standard speech commemorating the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“We had peace talks scheduled a few days ago,” he continued. “I called them off when I learned that they had killed a great American soldier from Puerto Rico and 11 other innocent people.”
Trump alleged that the Taliban had conducted the attack in Kabul to gain leverage in the talks and “to show strength. But actually, what they showed is unrelenting weakness.”
Reactions were mixed to Trump’s revelation over the weekend that he’d planned to bring Taliban and Afghan leaders to the U.S. to finalize a peace deal that had been reached in principle earlier in the week. While some lamented Trump upending the yearlong peace talks, others asserted that the U.S. should never have been negotiating with terrorists in the first place, let alone inviting them to a storied location like Camp David.
The plan even divided the White House and is said to have been a major factor in Tuesday’s ouster of national security adviser John Bolton. Bolton, a policy hawk who clashed with Trump frequently, vocally opposed the talks, as did Vice President Mike Pence, according to several media reports.
And while Trump maintained that he’s looking to strike a peace deal, he also issued an explicit warning to the Taliban, claiming that in the wake of last week’s attack “we have hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before and that will continue.”
To applause from the audience of officials, 9/11 survivors and family members of victims, Trump went on: “And if for any reason they come back to our country, we will go wherever they are and use power the likes of which the United States has never used before — and I’m not even talking about nuclear power. They will never have seen anything like what will happen to them.”