Sunday 22 September 2019

Trump's 9/11 threat to Taliban

'If they come back to our country, we will go wherever they are'

Tears: The children of Flowers Elena Ledesma, a victim of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 which killed 2,997 people, at the September 11 Memorial. Photo: Getty Images
Tears: The children of Flowers Elena Ledesma, a victim of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 which killed 2,997 people, at the September 11 Memorial. Photo: Getty Images

Nick Allen and Jeff Mason

US President Donald Trump vowed to hit the Taliban "harder than ever" as the United States marked the 18th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that led to its longest war in Afghanistan.

He also blamed the Taliban for the abrupt cancellation of planned peace talks at Camp David after the death of a US soldier in a suicide car bombing in Kabul last week.

Speaking at the Pentagon, where he was marking the anniversary, Mr Trump said: "We had peace talks scheduled a few days ago. I called them off when I learnt they had killed a great American soldier from Puerto Rico and 11 other innocent people.

"They thought they would use this attack to show strength, but actually what they showed is unrelenting weakness.

"The last four days, we have hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before and that will continue. 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."

Mr Trump said he was "not talking about nuclear power" but the Taliban "will never have seen anything like what will happen to them".

For nearly a year Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy, has been negotiating with the Taliban on issues including a US troop withdrawal and Taliban guarantees to keep the country from again being used as a launch pad for global terror attacks. Mr Trump has said he wants to withdraw around 5,000 of the 14,000 US military personnel still in the country.

In New York, relatives of victims, survivors, police officers, firefighters and city leaders marked the anniversary of the terrorist attacks at Ground Zero, where planes hijacked by al-Qaida crashed into the World Trade Center.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump said he was considering five "very qualified" people to replace John Bolton as his national security adviser.

The president said Mr Bolton, who he abruptly fired on Tuesday, had made mistakes, including offending North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un by demanding that he follow a "Libyan model" and hand over all his nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump said there were a lot of people interested in Mr Bolton's position and five he considered well qualified for the job. He did not name them.

He said he got along well with Mr Bolton and hoped they parted on good terms, but added the former adviser was out of line on Venezuela, another of the administration's top foreign policy challenges.

While the two were mostly agreed on the need to push Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, Mr Trump had become increasingly impatient at the failure of a US-led campaign of sanctions and diplomacy to remove the socialist leader.

The US president was asked whether he would consider easing sanctions on Iran to secure a meeting with its leader President Hassan Rouhani at this month's UN General Assembly and replied: "We'll see what happens."

Over the following 24 hours several of Mr Bolton's allies also departed, leaving Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, with increased influence over US foreign policy.

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator, said he had spoken to Mr Trump about a successor.

Those being considered included retired army general Keith Kellogg, currently national security adviser to vice-president Mike Pence; Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran; and Rick Waddell, a former deputy national security adviser.

Mr Graham said: "Kellogg's a retired general: competent, capable, confident, has the president's trust."

Mr Trump is expected to make his choice known next week.

© Daily Telegraph, London/Reuters

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