The National Today

U.S. says it's ready to talk to the Taliban - but is the feeling mutual?

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Afghan Taliban militants stand with residents on the outskirts of Jalalabad in June to celebrate ceasefire on the second day of Eid. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and we'll deliver it directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump's stance on the war in Afghanistan has been inconsistent, but reports suggest his administration is warming to the idea of negotiating with the Taliban
  • Meet Alphonso Davies, the 17-year-old soccer star who could be Canada's big talent in future World Cups
  • Relocating the body of dictator Francisco Franco is a stated goal of Spain's new socialist government, but it has riled some fascist supporters
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here


Talking to the Taliban

The U.S. military's top commander in Afghanistan says that America is ready to sit down with the Taliban for direct peace negotiations in an effort to bring an end to the 17-year-long conflict.

General John Nicholson, the head of NATO's "Resolute Support" mission in Afghanistan, today confirmed that an olive branch has been extended to the militant group, and that the U.S. is also willing to discuss its future military presence in the country.

"Our Secretary of State, Mr. [Mike] Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces," he said. "We hope that they realize this and that this will help to move the peace process forward."

Face-to-face talks with the Americans has long been a key demand of the Taliban, who maintain that the government of President Ashraf Ghani is illegitimate. The group has also demanded the withdrawal of all foreign troops as a precondition for such peace negotiations.

This past weekend, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration was looking for a way to jump-start talks and might be be willing to move away from the long-held U.S. position of an "Afghan-owned, Afghan-led" process.

But such a seismic shift will be a hard sell at home and abroad.
Negotiations with the U.S. has long been a key demand of the Taliban, who consider President Ashraf Ghani's government illegitimate. (Rahmat Gal/Associated Press)

Donald Trump came to office promising to end the "total disaster" of a war in Afghanistan, but instead ended up committing thousands of more troops to the fight against the Taliban and the Islamic State.

And just last January, the U.S. president vowed that he would never sit down with a group that commits such "horrible" atrocities.

"There's no talking to the Taliban. We don't want to talk to the Taliban. We're going to finish what we have to finish," Trump said.

The reality, however, is that the war in Afghanistan is at best a stalemate, as Gen. Nicholson himself declared in early 2017, or was perhaps lost long ago.

While the Taliban is in direct control of only a small portion of the country, it can strike almost anywhere at any time. This past weekend, a series of coordinated attacks in the north of the country left as many as 40 Afghan security personnel dead. And today, there are reports of another Taliban attack on a checkpoint in the eastern province of Nangarhar, which killed seven more police, as well as a suicide bombing by the Islamic State in the capital of Kabul that sought but failed to target the country's vice-president. Seven people died in the blast.

A new United Nations report says that almost 1,700 Afghan civilians have been killed in the fighting over the first six months of 2018, the highest number since the international body started keeping track in 2009.

Getting the Taliban to the table will not be easy, however.

The U.S. has been seeking a negotiated way out of Afghanistan since the beginning of Barack Obama's second term, well before the bulk of American troops were pulled out in 2014. And the last formal peace talks between the militant group and the Afghan government broke down almost as soon as they started in 2015.

A brief weekend of peace in June, when President Ghani declared a three-day truce to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Taliban fighters flooded into towns and cities to celebrate, was quickly followed by a return to Afghanistan's norm — grinding war.


Kicking it to the next level

He was born in a refugee camp, arrived in Canada at age five and 10 years later was playing professional soccer in MLS. It's not the plot of a movie of the week, but the very real story of Alphonso Davies.

Now 17 and on the verge of what's expected to be a bidding war by top European teams, Davies is remarkably down-to-earth.

Blame his mother. Davies says he is obsessed with not disappointing her. She and Davies' father fled Liberia for Ghana, and eventually settled in Edmonton.

Their son's poise off the pitch is as impressive as his skills on it. From fun topics like his penchant for dancing to serious issues like racism, Davies answered my questions candidly.

The National's Ian Hanomansing profiles the 17-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps phenom, who is on track to become Canada's first men's soccer superstar. 9:24

His excitement over becoming a Canadian citizen and his pride in playing for the national team is clear. When the World Cup comes to Canada in 2026, Davies will be 25 years old — in his prime. It will be fascinating to see how this movie ends.


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Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead

Francisco Franco has been gone for 43 years, but he is not forgotten.

Yesterday, hundreds of far-right protesters gathered at his burial place north of Madrid to express their outrage over a plan by Spain's government to move the late dictator's remains to a less conspicuous resting place.

Demonstrators in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, outside Madrid, protest plans by Spain's Socialist government to remove the remains of fascist dictator Francisco Franco from the Valle de los Caidos state-funded mausoleum. (Javier Barbancho/Reuters)

The Valley of the Fallen, a 13-square-kilometre park with a basilica and a 150-metre-high cross, is billed as a memorial to both sides of the country's brutal civil war. But there are only two marked graves among the 33,000 remains interred there: Franco's and the tomb of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange, his fascist political movement.

The demonstrators, who gathered outside the church where Franco is buried, chanted his name and slogans like, "Don't touch the valley," along with more pointed political messages such as "Spaniards, yes, refugees, no." They also sang the anthem of Falange, Cara al Sol, while some gave fascist salutes.

Relocating Franco was one of the first priorities of the new socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez after he took power in May. His administration wants to turn the valley into "a place of recognition and memory of all Spaniards."

The Conservative government of Mariano Rajoy had opposed demands to dig up Franco, saying the country's painful past should remain buried.

But the families of some of those who fell opposing the dictator and defending Spain's republic are not waiting for the controversy to be settled. In April, the remains of four men were removed from the mass mausoleum after a long legal battle.

Franco himself opened the monument in 1958, almost two decades after the end of the civil war. Much of the construction work was done by Republican prisoners.


A few words on...

Survival.


Quote of the moment

"In the United States, we call it soccer."

 - U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on staging a "beautiful" World Cup.


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Today in history

July 16, 2000: Tornado devastates Pine Lake, Alta.

Two days after a F3 tornado tore through the Green Acres campground at Pine Lake, Alta., searchers were still looking for survivors — and perhaps more victims. The 300 km/h winds cut a kilometre-wide swath across the mobile home park, crumpling structures and littering the bottom of the lake with sunken boats and trailers. A total of 12 people died and more than 100 were injured.

An Alberta campground is wiped out, and rescuers can't tell how many people are missing. 4:54

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.