Saturday, 16 February, 2019

Pat Shanahan, acting Pentagon chief, in unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad approaches the microphone to speak on the prospects for peace Friday Feb. 8 2019 at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan
Deanna Wagner | 11 February, 2019, 16:30

"It's not about the USA, it's about Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters traveling with him from Washington.

Although the Afghan government was kept out of the Moscow talks held last week, an official from Afghanistan's High Peace Council said that some parts of the Moscow resolution would be added to their agenda. "It's not about the USA, it's about Afghanistan".

"We will bring a lasting and honourable peace to the country", he said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday offered the Taliban the possibility of opening an office in Afghanistan but the proposal was swiftly spurned by the group that is determined to keep his government out of accelerating peace talks.

However, he said some neighbors insist that they want an Afghanistan which is not be ruled by Ashraf Ghani, 'because they (neighbors) fear his initiatives'.

In addition to battling the Taliban, U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are focused on an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate known as ISIS-Khorasan, comprised of foreign fighters largely from Pakistan.

Besides talking with Afghan government officials, Shanahan is also expected to meet United States troops and commanders on the ground during his first overseas visit in an official capacity.

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United States officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since a year ago in what is widely seen as the most serious bid yet for peace in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

Reports about a possible withdrawal of a significant number of U.S. forces from Afghanistan emerged last December.

"We are awaiting for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban", Taheri said.

An Afghan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that even the suggestion of USA troops leaving was unsafe. Pat Shanahan, the recently installed acting secretary of defense, said he has no orders to reduce the US troop presence in the country, although officials say that's at the top of the Taliban's list of demands in exploratory peace negotiations.

A defense official told CNN that Trump at the same time also chose to withdraw about half of the 14,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan.

He said the U.S.is not seeking permanent military bases in Afghanistan and will leave if Kabul does not want US troops there, provided that there is no threat to USA national security from Afghanistan, particularly from terrorist groups. "I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defence and supports regional stability". So far, though, he noted that the Taliban have been unwilling to take this step, arguing that the government is illegitimate.

US officials have told Reuters that, while no formal orders have been sent, the military is preparing for what a withdrawal of about half of the 14,000 USA troops in Afghanistan would look like.