Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, August 12, 2019 which is Baseball Fans Day, National Middle Child Day, National Sewing Machine Day and VJ (or Victory) Day.
This Day in Legion History:
- Sept. 11, 2001: Terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, destroy the Downtown Athletic Club American Legion post in lower Manhattan, and the Kim Lau American Legion post in Chinatown serves as a relief station for first responders. When a Canadian radio station airs the request from a young girl to send stuffed animals and toys to New York to comfort the children there, an 18-wheeler arrives in Chinatown, and the stuffed animals are housed in the basement of the post before distribution to kids. In Washington, D.C., National Commander Richard Santos is 23 minutes away from delivering testimony before a joint session of Congress when the Pentagon is attacked, and everyone is ordered to evacuate. The commander’s son, Steffen, is among the fire fighters who respond to the attack at the Department of Defense headquarters. Near Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 was flown into the ground after passengers seized control from hijackers, American Legion Post 257 Commander Dick Pristas is among the first responders at the crash site.
Today in History:
- 7:59 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 carrying 81 passengers and 11 crew members, departs 14 minutes late from Logan International Airport in Boston, bound for Los Angeles International Airport. Five hijackers are aboard.
- 8:14: United Airlines Flight 175, a Boeing 767, carrying 56 passengers and 9 crew members, departs 14 minutes late from Logan International Airport in Boston, bound for Los Angeles International Airport. Five hijackers are aboard.
- 8:14: Flight 11 is hijacked over central Massachusetts, turning first northwest, then south.
- 8:20: American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 with 58 passengers and 6 crew members, departs 10 minutes late from Washington Dulles International Airport, for Los Angeles International Airport. Five hijackers are aboard.
- 8:42: United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757 with 37 passengers and 7 crew members, departs 42 minutes late from Newark International Airport, bound for San Francisco International Airport. Four hijackers are aboard.
- 8:42–8:46 (approx.): Flight 175 is hijacked above northwest New Jersey, about 60 miles northwest of New York City, continuing southwest briefly before turning back to the northeast.
- 8:46:40: Flight 11 crashes into the north face of the North Tower (1 WTC) of the World Trade Center, between floors 93 and 99. The aircraft enters the tower intact.
- 8:50–8:54 (approx.): Flight 77 is hijacked above southern Ohio, turning to the southeast.
- 9:03:00: Flight 175 crashes into the south face of the South Tower (2 WTC) of the World Trade Center, between floors 77 and 85. Parts of the plane, including the starboard engine, leave the building from its east and north sides, falling to the ground six blocks away.
- 9:28: Flight 93 is hijacked above northern Ohio, turning to the southeast.
- 9:37:46: Flight 77 crashes into the western side of The Pentagon and starts a violent fire.
- 9:45: United States airspace is shut down.
- 9:59:00: The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 56 minutes after the impact of Flight 175.
- 10:03:11: Flight 93 is crashed by its hijackers as a result of fighting in the cockpit 80 miles (129 km) southeast of Pittsburgh in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Later reports indicate that passengers had learned about the World Trade Center and Pentagon crashes and were resisting the hijackers. The 9/11 Commission believed that Flight 93’s target was either the United States Capitol building or the White House in Washington, D.C.
- 10:28:22: The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 1 hour and 42 minutes after the impact of Flight 11. The Marriott Hotel, located at the base of the two towers, is also destroyed.
- 10:50:19: Five stories of part of the Pentagon collapse due to the fire.
- 5:20:33 p.m.: 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story building, collapses.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- AP: US to commemorate 9/11 as its aftermath extends and evolves
- Military Times: Trump dumps Bolton as national security adviser
- Stripes: Lawmaker blasts VA for ‘second chance’ given to VA doctor found drunk on the job
- WaPo: ‘Maybe this is how Vietnam vets felt’: Americans who fought in Afghanistan wait to see how their war ends
- Military Times: Why younger veterans more likely to struggle after leaving the military
- Stripes: Trump pronounces Taliban agreement ‘dead’ and peace talks over
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AP: US to commemorate 9/11 as its aftermath extends and evolves
By:Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press 13 hours ago
NEW YORK — Americans are commemorating 9/11 with mournful ceremonies, volunteering, appeals to “never forget” and rising attention to the terror attacks’ extended toll on responders.
A crowd of victims’ relatives is expected at ground zero Wednesday, while President Donald Trump is scheduled to join an observance at the Pentagon. Vice President Mike Pence is to speak at the third attack site, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Eighteen years after the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, the nation is still grappling with the aftermath at ground zero, in Congress and beyond. The attacks’ aftermath is visible from airport security checkpoints to Afghanistan, where a post-9/11 invasion has become America’s longest war. U.S. peace talks with Taliban insurgents collapsed in recent days.
“People say, ‘Why do you stand here, year after year?’” Chundera Epps, a sister of Sept. 11 victim Christopher Epps, said at last year’s ceremony at the World Trade Center. “Because soldiers are still dying for our freedom. First responders are still dying and being ill.”
“We can’t forget. Life won’t let us forget,” she added.
The anniversary ceremonies center on remembering the nearly 3,000 people killed when hijacked planes rammed into the trade center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001. All those victims’ names are read aloud at the ground zero ceremony, where moments of silence and tolling bells mark the moments when the aircraft crashed and the trade center’s twin towers fell.
But there has been growing awareness in recent years of the suffering of another group of people tied to the tragedy: firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after exposure to the wreckage and the toxins unleashed in it.
While research continues into whether those illnesses are tied to 9/11 toxins, a victims compensation fund for people with potentially Sept. 11-related health problems has awarded more than $5.5 billion so far. Over 51,000 people have applied.
After years of legislative gridlock, dwindling money in the fund and fervent activism by ailing first responders and their advocates, Congress this summer made sure the fund won’t run dry. Trump, a Republican and a New Yorker who was in the city on 9/11 signed the measure in July.
The sick gained new recognition this year at the memorial plaza at ground zero, where the new 9/11 Memorial Glade was dedicated this spring.
The tribute features six large stacks of granite inlaid with salvaged trade center steel, with a dedication “to those whose actions in our time of need led to their injury, sickness, and death.” No one is named specifically.
Some 9/11 memorials elsewhere already included sickened rescue, recovery and cleanup workers, and there is a remembrance wall entirely focused on them in Nesconset, on Long Island. But those who fell ill or were injured, and their families, say having a tribute at ground zero carries special significance.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Monday that its 9/11 memorial will close next week for electrical and lighting work. The project, expected to take until late May, includes repairs to lighting glitches in the shallow reflecting pools under the memorial benches.
Sept. 11 is known not only as a day for remembrance and patriotism, but also as a day of service. People around the country continue to volunteer at food banks, schools, home-building projects, park cleanups and other charitable endeavors on and near the anniversary.
Military Times: Trump dumps Bolton as national security adviser
By: Diana Stancy Correll 17 hours ago
President Donald Trump says he pushed out White House National Security Adviser John Bolton.
According to Trump, the two are parting ways because he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions.” Trump claimed Bolton turned in his resignation this morning, and a new national security adviser will be selected next week.
Bolton was Trump’s third NSA.
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” Trump said in a series of tweets Tuesday. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”
But Bolton had a different take on how things went down.
“I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow,’" Bolton tweeted later on Tuesday.
Bolton also told ABC News that he left of his own volition due to an “accumulation of things.”
“I offered to resign last night,” Bolton said, according to ABC News. “He never asked for me to resign directly or indirectly. I slept on it and resigned this morning.”
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters later Tuesday that Bolton’s priorities and policies just don’t line up with the president."
“There is no one issue here…they just didn’t align on many issues,” Gidley said, according to White House press pool reports.
Bolton, who backed the Iraq War in 2003, joined the White House in April 2018, replacing Trump’s second national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
Since then, media reports have indicated that the two have sparred over military intervention in many areas, including North Korea.
More recently, the announcement comes after the Washington Post reported on Aug. 30 that Bolton was not initially invited to a meeting with other top aides about the future of Afghanistan. According to the Post, Bolton’s pushback to a diplomatic solution in Afghanistan irked Trump and the two were at odds over policy options.
Bolton ultimately did attend the meeting after his aides put pressure on White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, the Post reported, citing a U.S. official. Other leaders who attended the meeting included Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and others.
Additionally, CNN reports that Trump was frustrated by media reports detailing Bolton’s opposition to hosting Taliban leaders at Camp David this week. The meeting was ultimately called off by Trump over the weekend.
A senior administration official also said that Trump’s annoyance with Bolton has grown in recent months, and that Trump believed Bolton was undermining him.
Bolton previously served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.
Stripes: Lawmaker blasts VA for ‘second chance’ given to VA doctor found drunk on the job
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPESPublished: September 10, 2019
WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., urged the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on Tuesday to investigate how the Department of Veterans Affairs handled the case of a pathologist in Fayetteville, Ark., who is accused of misdiagnosing patients while he was intoxicated on the job.
Robert Levy, 53, the former chief pathologist at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, was indicted last month on three counts of involuntary manslaughter and 28 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and false statements to law enforcement officials. His misdiagnoses totaled more than 3,000 cases and were responsible for at least 15 deaths, The Washington Post reported.
Levy was found in 2016 to have a blood alcohol level of 0.396% while at work, five times the legal limit in Arkansas of 0.08%. He was suspended but returned to his position after completing a three-month treatment program and agreeing to random drug and alcohol screenings.
He was fired in 2018 after he was found to have used 2-methyl-2-butanol, a substance that causes intoxication in small doses but is undetectable in routine drug and alcohol tests.
Womack blasted the VA on Tuesday for its decision to return Levy to a supervisory position.
“I will never understand why the VA returned Mr. Levy to duty as a supervisor,” Womack said. “I believe in second chances, but not in life or death circumstances.”
Womack made the statements during a hearing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, during which committee members heard from lawmakers about their concerns regarding VA facilities in their districts. He called on the committee to “conduct vigorous oversight” on the situation.
“I respectfully request your committee investigate the actions and decisions made by the VA throughout the entirety of this episode,” Womack said.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the chairman of the committee, said the subcommittee on oversight and investigations was planning a hearing in the fall to discuss Levy’s case, as well as an ongoing investigation concerning the suspicious deaths of at least 10 veterans at a VA facility in West Virginia.
Two of the deaths, caused by fatal doses of insulin administered at the VA hospital in Clarksburg, W.V., have been confirmed as homicides. There is a person of interest in the case, but the VA said the allegations don’t involve any current VA employees.
“We have a duty to ensure that veterans can access care without falling victim to ‘bad actors’ within the VA systems,” said Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., chairman of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
Regarding Levy’s case, Womack criticized the VA for its failure to communicate with lawmakers, in addition to the agency’s decision to keep Levy after he was found drunk on the job.
“The way the VA engaged with my office, with other Arkansas delegation offices, and this committee was concerning,” Womack said. “The VA is a department of the federal government and is subject to the oversight of Congress. But throughout the entire process, the VA was slow to provide important information to the relevant people.”
Takano said he was “particularly disturbed” about the VA’s lack of communication.
“Congress does have the duty to do oversight – and we will,” he said.
The VA on Tuesday rebutted Womack’s comments. The agency said it had kept elected officials informed.
“That statement is at odds with the public comments of other members of the Arkansas congressional delegation and local veterans,” a VA spokesman wrote in an email. “Communication with congressional offices was ongoing throughout the duration of the lookback to include calls in advance of all town halls to keep them informed.”
Levy was being held without bond in the Washington County Detention Center in Fayetteville, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. His bond hearing is set for Sept. 25.
WaPo: ‘Maybe this is how Vietnam vets felt’: Americans who fought in Afghanistan wait to see how their war ends
By Dan Lamothe
September 10 at 3:10 PM
STATESVILLE, N.C. — Ryan Clay and Anthony “Rocco” DePrimo were in different places in life when they met as Marines more than 12 years ago.
Clay was a combat instructor who already had seen war in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he earned a Purple Heart.
DePrimo was fresh out of high school and boot camp, a self-described former “pretty-boy dude” who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a Marine.
“Rocco used to hate me,” Clay said, smirking slightly.
“Yeah!” DePrimo responded, his face lighting up. “There was probably some hatred there.”
That was before they served together in the largest single battle of the Afghan war, in which more than 15,000 U.S., British, Afghan and other coalition troops fought to take control of the Taliban stronghold of Marja nine years ago.
That was before they lost brothers in arms together. Before DePrimo struggled with transitioning out of the military and drinking too much, and Clay survived an explosion that knocked him off his feet in Afghanistan and later a stroke.
Now the two are friends and part of a generation of war veterans who are waiting to see how the United States’ longest conflict might end.
Some 775,477 U.S. veterans and service members have deployed to Afghanistan since the U.S. war there began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks 18 years ago this week, including 28,267 who have gone five or more times, according to Pentagon statistics released to The Washington Post. Nearly 2,400 American troops have died there, including 16 in combat action this year, and more than 20,000 have been wounded.
President Trump repeatedly has vowed to bring the troops home. But on Saturday, he abruptly called off negotiations between U.S. diplomats and Taliban leaders and canceled a secret meeting planned at Camp David. It is not clear if Trump will remove some of the more than 14,000 U.S. troops who are deployed without a deal, or if talks can be jump-started.
The span of the conflict has prompted some veterans to question what has been accomplished. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported in July that 58 percent of veterans it surveyed said the war in Afghanistan was not worth it.
“There’s a lot of mixed feelings, and just feeling, ‘I don’t know how I feel about it,’ ” DePrimo said. “Maybe this is how the Vietnam vets felt. I’d like to think that’s possibly true — having the same feelings.”
On a cold morning in February 2010, Clay, DePrimo and the rest of their unit — the 3rd Platoon of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines — landed in helicopters near Marja, in the southern province of Helmand. The rural, largely desert area was home to hundreds of Taliban fighters and fields divided by muddy canals and fields that grow opium poppies in the spring.
For days, the Marines hiked to get closer to the enemy, uncertain when the fighting would start. They dug holes and shared them at night to escape the brutal cold.
“We had Marines burning their own socks to stay warm,” Clay recalled.
On Feb. 13, they crossed the “line of departure” on the map marking the Marja boundary. Gunfire punctuated the air. Two explosives disposal technicians fighting alongside the platoon, Gunnery Sgt. Ralph E. Pate Jr. and Sgt. John Morris, disarmed more than 20 bombs early in the operation, Clay said.
The platoon escaped without any fatalities, but four Marines in the battalion of 1,000 were killed between Feb. 17 and Feb. 21.
In March, the platoon was assigned to take over a dilapidated yellow schoolhouse, which was inside a walled courtyard the size of a football field in northern Marja. Clay, a staff sergeant, was put in charge of operations on site, while his platoon commander, 1st Lt. Jackson Smith, led another part of the unit nearby.
The attacks began immediately. Squads of Marines, including one led by DePrimo, a corporal, were repeatedly ambushed with machine guns, rifles and rocket-propelled grenades a few hundreds yards from their base. Several were wounded in murky fights in which friend and foe were hard to discern, and Taliban fighters zoomed away on motorcycles.
In one hair-raising battle, insurgents shot Lance Cpl. Matthew T. Earle, puncturing both of his lungs. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew A. Dishmon, a hospital corpsman, dragged him to safety under gunfire, earning a Bronze Star with V for his valor.
“The yellow schoolhouse, in my opinion, was my nightmare,” Clay said. “Every night I’d go to bed and no one was killed, I’d thank God and hope that tomorrow was not worse than today.”
By the end of the deployment in August, nine Marines in the battalion had been killed. At least 86 earned Purple Hearts for being wounded in combat.
When the unit returned home to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the Marines began scattering.
DePrimo left the military in May 2011, disillusioned with his options. He bounced around community colleges in South Carolina and Florida and learned to operate a crane in Georgia, though by the time he finished training he didn’t want to do that anymore.
He also drank too much, to the point that he eventually quit hard alcohol, he said.
“I don’t know that there was anything easy about getting out,” DePrimo said of leaving the military. “I can’t ever say I felt alone, but I secluded myself a lot just to kind of get away from a lot that was going on and what had transpired. A lot of it was me just not taking the right steps. It was all of the things I knew I shouldn’t be doing, but it was like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ ”
Clay continued his career and graduated from drill instructor school in Parris Island, S.C., in June 2011 with DePrimo watching. But a few weeks later, his life changed.
While barking orders to recruits, he felt a “pop” in his head and crushing pain. He was having a stroke.
For six weeks, Clay underwent physical therapy, walking with a cane and learning how to do basic tasks such as buttoning his clothes. He recovered, but his Marine Corps career was over. Doctors told him the explosion in Marja could have been responsible.
“There’s no sense in fighting it when they’re going to retire you anyway,” Clay said. “So be grateful and thankful that I’m still here.”
Back in Marja, violence was plummeting, but the war raged on in other parts of the country.
On June 26, 2011, Pate, the Marine so admired for his work disarming bombs, was killed in an explosion in Sangin, about 70 miles northeast of Marja.
A couple weeks later, Sgt. Ian McConnell, 24, another Marine who served at the schoolhouse, died by suicide in California. Afghanistan weighed on him heavily, said his sister, Meg Schellinger, of Eagan, Minn.
“Even today, I’m still shocked,” she said. “Yeah, he’d been pulling back and not really talking with me as much lately, but it just wasn’t Ian, you know?”
As the years passed, Marja again largely fell to the Taliban.
Keeping a boundary in place
Since returning home, some former members of the platoon have flourished, and others have struggled. Lance Cpl. Dominic Draper died in a car wreck in 2016, after surviving a roadside bomb in Marja that destroyed his vehicle while he was in its gun turret.
Smith, 34, who is now a lawyer in New Orleans, said he is proud that every member of his platoon survived the deployment and tries to remind them that they have no control over how the war has gone. He recently got engaged.
“If you try to zoom out any further in terms of, ‘What’s our mission here?’ you get very quickly into the realm of things over which you have absolutely no control,” he said. “Keeping that boundary in place is very important in terms of dealing with the bitterness that some guys may have.”
DePrimo and Clay settled near each other and took jobs in Statesville, N.C., a small city north of Charlotte with an old-fashioned downtown. That they live near each other happened by coincidence, but they spend time together frequently.
DePrimo, who turns 31 this month, married a woman from his hometown of Lake Wales, Fla., becoming a stepfather to three girls before having a son in 2018. He sold cars for a while, and moved on recently to taking horticulture classes and farming. He’s proud of what he and the Marines he served with did in Afghanistan.
“They were getting shot at, and they were running and shooting back at them,” he said. “That’s where the pride comes in for me: to know that these guys at one time all stood for the exact same thing, and they went out and they did it, and they accomplished what they were supposed to accomplish.”
Since leaving the military, Clay, 36, has found happiness after divorce and remarrying, he said. He became a patrol deputy and dog handler with the Iredell County Sheriff’s Department, and is quick to tell those he served alongside that he loves them.
“The sacrifices that were made, it’s not that they were made in vain as long as they’re not forgotten,” he said. “That’s the best way to put it. Things have to change. Times have to change.”
Military Times: Why younger veterans more likely to struggle after leaving the military
By: Leo Shane III 21 hours ago
Younger veterans are more likely than previous generations of servicemembers to report problems readjusting to civilian life, with about 1 in 6 calling the transition very difficult, according to a new survey released today.
The survey from the Pew Research Center, which includes responses from 1,284 veterans collected in May and June, also found that one-third of veterans reported they had trouble paying their bills in the first few years after leaving the military, and about 40 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans believed their deployment had a negative effect on their mental health.
Researchers say at least part of the difference between the youngest generation of veterans and their pre-9/11 peers is the time they spent in combat zones during their service. More than 75 percent of post-9/11 veterans were deployed at least once, compared to 58 percent of the older generations.
“(Combat veterans) are more likely to say they didn’t get the respect they deserved, struggled with the lack of structure in civilian life, and felt disconnected from family or friends,” the center’s report said.
“At the same time, those who served in combat report positive impacts from the experience. Majorities say their experiences in combat made them feel closer to those who served alongside them, showed them that they were stronger than they thought they were and changed their priorities about what was important in their life.”
Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans have seen historic low unemployment rates in recent years, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates. But their jobless figures have also remained above the rate for all veterans, indicating extra employment difficulties for younger veterans compared to their elder peers.
About 47 percent of the post-9/11 veterans surveyed by the center said that readjustment to civilian life from the military was difficult, compared to 21 percent for older generations. About 35 percent of the post-9/11 veterans said they have sought professional help for “emotional issues,” compared to just 10 percent for the older crowd.
More veterans who served before 2001 were proud of their military service than those who served afterwards (70 percent to 58 percent), and older veterans were more optimistic about their future after leaving the ranks than the younger veterans (50 percent to 33 percent).
The older cohort was also more likely to give positive marks to federal veterans assistance programs. Only about 27 percent of pre-9/11 veterans said they government has not given them enough help. Among younger veterans, that number rose to 43 percent.
Regardless of when they served, about one in five veterans said they have struggled with substance abuse in the first few years after leaving the military.
The full study results are available on the Pew Research Center web site.
By KAREN DEYOUNG, JOSH DAWSEY AND MISSY RYAN | The Washington Post | Published: September 9, 2019
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Monday that negotiations with the Taliban "are dead" and indicated that he had no further interest in meeting with the group over an end to the Afghanistan war.
"I’m not looking to discuss it," he said. "I’m not discussing anything."
Trump appeared to provide the definitive response to at least one question officials across his administration were struggling to answer in the wake of his abrupt cancellation, by way of Twitter on Saturday evening, of a Camp David meeting with Taliban and Afghan government leaders to finalize an agreement.
Before Trump’s comments, made to reporters as he left for a campaign rally in North Carolina, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was said to be hopeful that there was still a flicker of life in the Taliban talks and that a way to restart them would emerge. In Sunday talk show interviews, Pompeo said the negotiations were off "for the time being" but emphasized that progress had been made.
State Department negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad returned to Washington on Monday for meetings with senior officials to discuss what had happened and what to do.
Dissension within the administration over the issue — centered on Pompeo’s support for the negotiations, national security adviser John Bolton’s opposition, and their competition for policy dominance and presidential favor — is "really heating up," according to a senior administration official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
A second senior official described similar Bolton-Pompeo tensions and predicted that, whatever Trump may say now, the issue of negotiations was far from dead. Just as Trump first threatened and then was eager to talk to the leaders of North Korea and Iran, this official said, the president will eventually be willing to make a deal with the Taliban.
Among those trying to stay out of the firing line, Vice President Mike Pence joined Trump in disputing reports that he had opposed the Camp David meeting but was overruled by the president. "This Story is False!" Trump tweeted Monday afternoon, saying that "the Dishonest Media likes to create the look of turmoil in the White House, of which there is none."
"That’s Absolutely Right Mr. President," Pence tweeted in response. "More Fake News!"
The second senior official said Pence had helped talk Trump out of his initial idea to hold the meeting with the Taliban at the White House and was opposed to any meeting at all.
Just as the future of U.S.-Taliban negotiations remained in doubt, military officials were noncommittal about whether the U.S. troop cuts the deal envisioned would go ahead.
"The number of troops that we will have will always be the appropriate level that we need to provide security there," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. "We’re going to focus on the counterterrorism mission, and we’re going to focus on the reason we got into Afghanistan in the first place, and that is to prevent terrorist operations or individuals from using Afghanistan as a base from which to operate against the homeland."
In Kabul, Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani called on the Taliban to negotiate with him but warned that attempts to increase its attacks on the ground would be met with a ferocious military response. The Taliban refrained from public statements, and its negotiators were believed to be consulting militant leaders based in Quetta, Pakistan.
No further U.S.-Taliban talks are scheduled, and the nearly completed agreement, negotiated by Khalilzad over the past 10 months, appears to be dead. A meeting between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders — agreed to as part of the U.S.-Taliban deal and scheduled to be held in Oslo on Sept. 23 — has been canceled, according to European officials who were in charge of organizing it. A donors conference to fund post-deal political talks among the Afghans, scheduled for next week in London, is up in the air.
Talk of a cease-fire in the 18-year-old war, on the agenda for the Oslo meeting, has now disappeared, as both the United States and the Taliban have pledged to step up their battlefield attacks.
In his remarks to reporters, Trump claimed full credit for both setting up the Camp David meeting and canceling it.
The subject was first broached, according to an official familiar with White House deliberations, in a "principals only" meeting at the end of August. Held in the Situation Room, it included Pompeo and Khalilzad, with Bolton joining via videoconference from overseas.
"It was my idea," Trump said Monday of inviting the Taliban and Ghani to Washington. "I took my own advice. I like the idea of meeting . . . I think meeting is a great thing," he said. "Otherwise, wars would never end."
Others familiar with the meeting said they could not confirm who first brought it up. Trump said he had nixed a suggestion that it be held at the White House – which others recalled he had proposed himself — because "that would be a step too far." But, he said, there was precedent for hosting negotiations among warring foreigners at Camp David.
As Khalilzad explained the pact, it would allow the initial withdrawal of about 5,000 U.S. troops in exchange for a Taliban commitment to break relations with al-Qaida and a pledge that it would allow no terrorist organizations with designs on the United States to exist in territory under Taliban control.
Bolton argued that Trump could withdraw the same number of troops without any deal with the Taliban, something he had opposed since the negotiations started in October.
While State Department officials came away from that August meeting believing that Trump — eager for a campaign-promised withdrawal — was on board with the terms of the deal, some inside the White House insisted that the president had never considered it a done deal and wanted to put his own stamp on the negotiations.
Bolton and others who opposed negotiating with the Taliban — let alone inviting its leaders to Washington — continued to raise questions about the agreement, noting that Taliban attacks had increased in recent years.
Meanwhile, the State Department drew attention to a rise in U.S.-backed Afghan government attacks against the Taliban and stepped-up U.S. airstrikes. Additional violence was to be expected in the lead-up to an agreement as both sides sought leverage.
Although the Camp David aspect of the negotiations was a closely held secret, those who knew about it — supporters and opponents alike — worried that it was a bad idea. Trump’s concept was that he would meet separately with Ghani and the Taliban leaders, satisfy them and himself that the deal was adequate, and then announce it.
The Taliban, queried by Khalilzad in Doha, expressed trepidation but did not refuse. Ghani reluctantly agreed, if only to avoid being seen as a peace spoiler.
Trump revealed the plan in the same Saturday nighttweet that canceled it. Far from listening to his advisers, he said Monday, "it was my idea to terminate it. I didn’t even discuss it with anybody else."
The reason, he said, both in the Saturday tweet and Monday’s comments, was the death Thursday morning of a U.S. service member killed in a Taliban attack. "You can’t do that. You can’t do that with me," Trump said. "So, they’re dead as far as I’m concerned," he said of the negotiations.
But others noted that 16 Americans have been killed by hostile fire this year in Afghanistan, including one a week before the most recent death – after Trump was briefed on the peace agreement and sent Khalilzad back to the region to finalize it.
Even as those differing on the wisdom of negotiations plotted different futures, few within the administration mourned the cancellation of the Camp David meeting. "This is a dodged bullet," said one senior official.