U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Tom Brenner | Reuters

President Donald Trump traveled to Afghanistan for the first time to visit U.S. troops during the Thanksgiving holiday, where he met with the Afghan president and said Washington had restarted talks with the Taliban. 

Trump landed at Bagram Airfield and served Thanksgiving dinner to service members before meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. He then addressed 1,500 U.S. troops representing all services in a hanger.

Trump said the U.S. is able to “very substantially” draw down its military presence in the country to 8,600 troops or possibly lower. The president said the Afghan Taliban “wants to make a deal” and they “want to do a ceasefire.”  

“We are talking to the Taliban,” Trump said in response to a question about peace talks. 

“We will see if the Taliban wants to make a deal,” Trump said during his meeting with Ghani. “If they do, they do. If they don’t they don’t. We were getting close.”

Trump has repeatedly said he wants to reduce troop numbers in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has fought the longest war in its history. American service members first deployed to Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

The conflict has spanned three administrations, cost the lives of at least 2,218 U.S. service members and left 20,091 wounded in action, according to the Defense Department.

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The president’s visit comes one week after the Taliban freed two Western hostages, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks. The American University professors had been held for more than three years.

In September, Trump abruptly cancelled peace talks with the Taliban after the insurgent group claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier and 11 other people. The president had planned a secret meeting with the Taliban’s major leaders at Camp David before calling it off.

Second trip to warzone

Trump’s visit to Afghanistan is his first to the country, but the second time he has visited U.S. troops in a warzone during his presidency. He and first lady Melania Trump made an unannounced post-Christmas visit to Iraq to meet with political and military personnel last year.

The president’s Iraq trip came on the heels of his sudden decision to withdraw American ground forces from Syria, which prompted then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis to hand in his resignation. Mattis’ shock departure was mourned by lawmakers of both parties who saw him as a stabilizing figure within the Trump administration.

At the time, Trump said he had “no plans at all” to remove the more 5,000 U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq. But he defended his decision to withdraw the nearly 2,000 troops in Syria, saying, “A lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking.”

At this point in his presidency, President Barack Obama had visited troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. President George W. Bush visited Iraq eight months after the start of the war in 2003.

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The U.S. taxpayer has spent $6.4 trillion on war and military action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan since 2001, according to a recent study.