Mattis: News of Aborted Plans for Camp David Talks with Taliban 'A Surprise'

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, March 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)
FILE -- U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, March 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

Following the collapse of Afghanistan peace talks, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday that the U.S. must consider putting in "whatever resources are necessary" to deny al-Qaida a terrorist safe haven.

Mattis, who last week warned against a hasty withdrawal of the estimated 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that "you should put in whatever resources are necessary so when our diplomats negotiate, they negotiate from a position of strength."

Mattis was not pressed on whether the added "resources" should include more U.S. troops, or how long the U.S. should maintain a presence, but said the Afghan government and military should be built up to the point that they can effectively defend themselves.

"The fact is, we need to maintain an influence there until the government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan are strong enough to deny Afghanistan as a safe haven," he said.

Related: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Jim Mattis from His New Memoir 'Call Sign Chaos'

Speaking three days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Mattis said the Taliban can't be trusted to break with al-Qaida. He cited the late President Ronald Reagan's guideline for negotiating with adversaries: "Trust, but verify."

In dealing with the Taliban, Reagan's advice should be reversed, Mattis said.

"In this case, with this group, I think you want to verify then trust," he said.

As he has in previous appearances promoting his memoir, "Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead," Mattis avoided direct criticism of President Donald Trump.

The president announced via Twitter on Saturday that he had invited the Taliban and the Afghan government to meet with him at Camp David in Maryland, but called off the meeting after the Taliban executed an attack in Kabul that killed 12, including a U.S. service member.

"Well, it was a surprise," Mattis told "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan of the proposed Camp David talks, "but I would say that all wars eventually come to an end and I salute efforts to try to end that war."

However, he said U.S. negotiators must keep the memory of 9/11 uppermost in their minds in dealing with the Taliban.

"Can they be trusted? We've asked them, demanded that they break with al-Qaida since the Bush administration; they've refused to do so," Mattis said.

He said al-Qaida "murdered three thousand innocent people, citizens of 91 countries on 9/11. We should never forget that, that the Taliban hid those people among them, refused to break with them, and have refused to this day to break."

Mattis, the former Marine general who resigned as defense secretary following Trump's announcement that U.S. troops would be withdrawn, declined to comment on whether his decision to step down led the president to reverse course and keep several hundred U.S. troops in Syria.

"I'll let the historians sort that out," he said. "I don't know what all went into the decision to reverse that, that call -- the pull everyone out. I can't answer that."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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