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Acting Pentagon Chief Makes Surprise Visit To Kabul, Meets Ashraf Ghani

13 February, 2019, 13:04 | Author: Lucille Rivera
  • Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai first row second from left Abdul Salam Hanafi and other Taliban officials pray during the peace talks in Moscow Russia on Wednesday Feb 6 2019. ─ AP  File

There have been no orders from the Donald Trump administration to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan, acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Monday as he arrived in the war-torn South Asian country on an unannounced visit.

Shanahan said: 'I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan.

Some 14,000 USA troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a US -led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Kabul is concerned that a sharp drawdown of USA forces could lead to chaos in the region.

"Afghans must control their own future and be involved in ongoing peace discussions and there are no orders to reduce U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan", Shanahan said, according to Colonel Dave Butler, a spokesman for Resolute Support, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation training mission in Afghanistan.

The statement said that "the trip is part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that protects United States national security interests and brings all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue through which they can determine a path for their country's future".

Sources told The New York Times last month that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is anxious American negotiators will agree to the formation of an interim government that includes the Taliban in some way. The Taliban has refused to meet with the Afghan government calling it a "puppet" of the US.

But Jason H. Campbell, an Afghanistan scholar at the Rand Corp., said securing that kind of a longer-term presence might not be possible if it is not accompanied by a larger effort to continue to fund and support Afghan forces. Ghani has appeared increasingly sidelined as the United States holds talks with the Taliban aimed at ending the 17-year war.

Both sides hailed progress after the latest round last month, although significant obstacles remain.

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The Taliban wants all foreign troops withdrawn from Afghanistan.

"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like", Shanahan told Military.com in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

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

His remarks came few hours after the US Department of State said in a statement that the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad will lead an interagency delegation to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from February 10 - 28.

A spokesman of the Defense Ministry, Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed, said military operations by Afghan forces are ongoing in at least 15 provinces.

Shanahan said a withdrawal of about half the USA troops was not something that was being discussed.

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

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