Acting Pentagon chief lands in Afghanistan, supports Kabul role in peace talks

Cheryl Sanders
February 11, 2019

But he stressed that peace terms are for the Afghans to decide.

"It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters traveling with him on the previously unannounced trip.

It was not immediately clear if Shanahan and Khalilzad would be conducting joint discussions during their trips.

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

President Trump is pushing to end United States involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.

In January Afghan security forces inspected the site of a car bomb blast in Kabul
In January Afghan security forces inspected the site of a car bomb blast in Kabul

The Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government, calling it a "puppet" of the West. ButGhani's allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process.

Shanahan replaced Jim Mattis, who quit in December over policy differences with US President Donald Trump.

The death toll of USA service members in Afghanistan has surpassed 2,400 since the United States invaded the country in 2001.

He also said his goal on the trip was to get an understanding of the situation on the ground from commanders and then to brief Trump on his findings.

USA 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.

Votel noted that the Taliban are still capable of inflicting significant casualties on Afghan government forces.

The next round of talks is due in Qatar on February 25. Yet he chose instead to add about 3500 troops in 2017-2018 to bolster the USA effort to train and advise Afghan forces.

An Afghan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said even the suggestion of US troops leaving was risky.

"Of course it has given leverage to the Taliban, there is no question about that", the official said.

"If the Taliban want an office, I will give it to them in Kabul, Nangarhar or Kandahar by tomorrow", Ghani said while visiting the province of Nangarhar, a hotbed of insurgent violence on the border with Pakistan.

However, he told reporters, he has no particular instruction from the administration about any slashing of the American troop presence in Afghanistan from the current 14,000 soldiers.

The Taliban have put out contradictory information on what timeline the United States has agreed to in any potential withdrawal.

Trump has already said he is pulling out all 2,000 USA troops in Syria, where they have been aiding a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against the Islamic State and other insurgent groups. "The steps that they (Taliban) have taken have been for propaganda and concession, not for goodwill or for real and serious negotiations", Abdullah said as he addressed the Council of Ministers' meeting on Monday.

Afghanistan's special forces units suffered increasingly heavy casualties past year as the Taliban mounted major assaults on provincial centers including Ghazni and Farah in the southwest.

Other reports by iNewsToday