Sunday, 17 February, 2019

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is leading a six nation tour to boost the peace process in Afghanistan the State Department says Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan
Kenny Thornton | 11 February, 2019, 16:30

"It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters accompanying him, as cited by Reuters.

But he stressed that peace terms are for the Afghans to decide. "We are here. We have a shared interest together with the people of Afghanistan and we are committed to them", added Butler.

In testimony before Congress last week, General Joseph Votel, the commander of US Central Command, offered a largely optimistic view of Afghanistan, saying the manoeuvring between US and Taliban negotiators is "our first real opportunity for peace and reconciliation since the war began".

Also on Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban were welcome to open an office in Kabul, Kandahar or Nangarhar to continue the peace talks that have so far been held in Doha, Qatar.

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who had never been in Afghanistan until Monday, was scheduled to meet Ghani and other top government officials. Some U.S. forces also carry out counter-terrorism operations. "(The) presence will evolve out of those discussions", Shanahan said.

USA officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since past year 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.

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

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

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Afghanistan and neighboring countries are also concerned about the effect of a sudden withdrawal of USA forces on the region.

Taliban negotiators are due to meet USA peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad for another round of talks in Qatar on February 25.

United States has 14,000 forces in Afghanistan who are engaged in counterterror as well as train, advise and assisting mission for their Afghan counterparts.

There are about 14,000 USA troops now deployed in Afghanistan, and the US administration reportedly plans to bring half of them home.

The talks are expected to centre around a ceasefire to end America's longest war and the withdrawal of foreign troops.

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. In a letter to Donald Trump last month, President Ashraf Ghani asked him to slow down the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and suggested cutting costs for the U.S. where possible.

"The presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability and then any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner", he said.

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