Pentagon's Top Official in Afghanistan Amid Push for Peace

Sergio Conner
February 11, 2019

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

"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. We are here. We have a shared interest together with the people of Afghanistan and we are committed to them", added Butler.

Shanahan's visit comes amid a push for peace by the U.S. and the Taliban.

Although the progress in Qatar was hopeful, analysts believed that reaching a final agreement is far from guaranteed, saying the Taliban still refuses to negotiate a political settlement with the Afghan government.

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who had never been in Afghanistan until Monday, was scheduled to meet Ghani and other top government officials.

The U.S. military turned its attention largely to Iraq in 2003, and eventually the Taliban were able to regenerate enough combat power to contest key battlefields, mainly in the south.

In his remarks to reporters during his flight to Kabul, Shanahan said that although the Islamic State presence in Syria "has been decimated", local Syrian security forces are needed to ensure stability.

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.

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.

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

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

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

Khalilzad, the former US ambassador to Kabul, had a six-day consultation with Afghan Taliban last month in Qatar.

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.

Some 14,000 US troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a USA -led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.

Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan meets with Afghan commandos at Camp Morehead in Kabul, Afghanistan February 11, 2019.

While the USA talks with the Taliban have focused on troop presence and assurances that terrorist networks would not be given haven, Khalilzad said intra-Afghan talks could also deal with human rights, freedom of the press and the role of women, who were harshly oppressed under Taliban rule.

In December, there were numerous reports that US President Donald Trump planned to halve the estimated 14,000 US forces in Afghanistan.

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