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Friday February 21st, 2020 10:22AM

The Latest: Trump, in Afghanistan, says Taliban wants deal

By The Associated Press
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BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) — The Latest on President Donald Trump’s first visit to Afghanistan (all times local):

12:20 a.m.

President Donald Trump is returning to the U.S. after an unannounced trip to Afghanistan, his first visit to the site of America’s longest war.

Trump took off after midnight from Bagram Air Field after several hours with the troops and a brief meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Trump says the U.S. and Taliban have been engaged in ongoing peace talks and he thinks the Taliban want to make a deal.

Trump abruptly broke off peace talks with the Taliban in September, canceling a secret meeting with at Camp David after a bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier. It was not immediately clear how long or substantive the U.S. reengagement with the Taliban has been.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Ghani was notified of the president’s visit a few hours before Trump’s arrival and accepted an invitation to meet at the base.

___

11:50 p.m.

President Donald Trump is thanking U.S. troops in Afghanistan during a surprise visit to Bagram Air Field in his first trip to the site of America’s longest war.

He says he flew 8,331 miles to be there to tell them the U.S. has never been stronger. He says, “There is nowhere I’d rather celebrate Thanksgiving.”

Trump spoke to a crowd of about 1,500 troops gathered in a hangar on the base. He stood behind a podium surrounded by army green sandbags and flanked by military equipment.

Trump at one point invited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to join him onstage. Ghani wished the troops a “Happy Thanksgiving” and commended Trump for his leadership.

Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and more than 2,400 American service members have been killed since America’s longest war began 18 years ago.

___

11:40 p.m.

President Donald Trump had a Thanksgiving meal with U.S. troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, where he traveled secretly Thursday.

Trump’s first stop was a dining hall decked out in paper Thanksgiving decorations where he plated turkey for the troops at the largest U.S. base in the country.

He was then greeted by a round of loud cheers as he headed into a main dining area and sat down for a meal, chatted and posed for photos.

He also thanked the troops and joked that, “It’s a long flight, but we love it.”

The meal included turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and candied yams. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, Entertainment Tonight and a Harry Potter movie played on dining hall TVs.

___

11:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump is making a surprise visit to Afghanistan to spend time with U.S. troops on Thanksgiving.

Trump arrived at Bagram Air Field shortly after 8:30 p.m. local time and spent more than two-and-a-half hours on the ground. Reporters were under strict instructions to keep the trip a secret to ensure his safety.

The visit comes more than two months after Trump abruptly broke off peace talks with the Taliban after a bombing in Kabul killed 12 people, including an American soldier.

And it comes at a pivotal moment in Trump’s presidency, with the impeachment inquiry moving quickly.

The president and first lady made a similar trip last year to Iraq on Christmas night — their first to an active conflict zone.

Vice President Mike Pence also visited troops in Iraq this week.

___

11 p.m.

The White House went to great lengths to keep the president’s surprise Thanksgiving trip to Afghanistan secret after his cover was blown last year.

Cell phones were confiscated from everyone traveling aboard Air Force One to Bagram Air Field. And Thanksgiving-themed tweets were teed up to publish ahead of time from the president’s account to prevent suspicions arising about his silence.

The president first flew back to the Washington area secretly from Florida, where reporters had been told he’d be spending Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, the plane he’d flown to Florida remained parked on the tarmac at West Palm Beach Airport to avoid revealing the president’s movement.

Last year, Air Force One was spotted en route to Iraq by an amateur British flight watcher.

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