Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan to discuss the process of peace talks with the Taliban militant group and Washington’s planned drawdown of its military forces in the war-torn country.
Patrick Shanahan arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday and is scheduled to sit down for talks with President Ashraf Ghani and visit the American troops deployed to the country.
Ghani’s government has so far been excluded from the ongoing talks between the US and the Taliban, which view the Kabul government as illegitimate.
Upon arrival in Afghanistan, Shanahan said coordination with the Kabul government to end more than 17 years of militancy is vital. “It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan,” he added.
“The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future. It’s not about the US, it is about Afghanistan,” he said. “The US military has strong security interests in the region. (The) presence will evolve out of those discussions.”
Shanahan, however, said no direction has been given to him to reduce the number of US forces on Afghan soil.
The acting Pentagon chief also said he was in Afghanistan to get an insight into the situation on the ground from American commanders.
Shanahan took over from Jim Mattis, who stepped down in December 2018 amid differences with President Donald Trump. Mattis’ resignation came after Trump ordered the Pentagon, against the defense chief’s recommendation, to work out a plan to withdraw approximately half of the nearly 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
Representatives of the US and the Taliban militant group have held several rounds of talks in Qatar in an attempt to end the war in Afghanistan.
The latest round was held last month, and the next round is scheduled for February 25.
Efforts to negotiate a peace deal have been beset by disagreement in recent weeks as leaders of the militant group reject the Kabul government’s offer for direct talks.
Earlier this week, the Taliban dismissed Ghani’s offer to open a political office in Afghanistan, saying the offer was aimed at “harming the peace efforts.”
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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