President Donald Trump announced that peace talks have resumed with the Taliban during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to American troops serving in Afghanistan.
"The Taliban wants to make a deal, and we're meeting with them," Trump said during a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. "They want to make to make a deal very badly."
The commander-in-chief wore fatigues and served up turkey dinner to service members after jetting into an airbase near the capital of Kabul in his first visit to those fighting in America's longest war.
Trump, who has railed against American entanglements in foreign conflicts, said he wants to bring home about a third the 13,000 or so American forces in Afghanistan soon.
"We made tremendous progress and at the same time we've been drawing down our troops," Trump said.
Still, Trump insisted ominously that the U.S. will stay in the country "until we have a deal or we have total victory."
Just 2-1/2 months ago, Trump abandoned controversial plans to invite the Taliban for peace talks at Camp David on the eve of the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The Taliban was in power and gave refuge to Osama bin Laden as the notorious al Qaeda leader plotted the worst terror attack on American soil.
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 war remains deadly and just last week, Trump oversaw the return home of the remains of two Army officers killed when their helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan.
The Taliban holds sway over about half of the country, staging near-daily attacks targeting Afghan forces and government officials.
Trump, who traveled without First Lady Melania Trump, has mostly avoided the holiday trips to visit the troops that his predecessors regularly took. He flew into Iraq last Christmas to visit American troops serving there.
The White House took pains to keep the trip a secret after Trump's cover was blown last year when Air Force One was spotted en route to Iraq by an amateur British flight watcher.
Trump's Thanksgiving-themed tweets were teed up to publish ahead of time to prevent suspicions arising about the president's social media silence.
The president was secretly flown back to Washington from Florida, where reporters had been told he'd be spending Thanksgiving at his Mar-a-Lago club.
The plane he rode down to West Palm Beach remained parked on the tarmac at West Palm Beach Airport to avoid revealing the president's movement. About 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, the president boarded a nearly identical plane concealed in a hangar at Andrews Air Base, taking off and landing under the cover of darkness, with cabin lights dimmed and window shutters drawn.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the visit had been in the works for weeks.
"It's a dangerous area and he wants to support the troops," Grisham told reporters before Trump landed. "We thought it'd be a nice surprise."
Trump arrived under cover of darkness as smoke from trash fires wafted across the chilly Bagram Air Base near the Afghan capital.
He served up turkey and fixings to hundreds of troops in a cafeteria and posed for photos with many of them. The president told the troops he was honored to spend his holiday with them.
"There is nowhere I'd rather celebrate this Thanksgiving than right here with the toughest, strongest, best and bravest warriors on the face of the earth," Trump said.
This article is written by Dave Goldiner from New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.