Saturday, 20 April, 2019

Pentagon's Top Official in Afghanistan Amid Push for Peace

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 Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan
Jeannette Daniel | 11 February, 2019, 16:30

Some U.S. forces also carry out counter-terrorism operations.

An Afghan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that even the suggestion of USA troops leaving was unsafe. "It's not about the U.S., it's about Afghanistan".

Ghani's government has been shut out of the evolving peace talks between Taliban negotiators and US envoys, with the hardline Islamist movement branding his government a USA puppet.

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.

Although the Afghan government was kept out of the Moscow talks held last week, an official from Afghanistan's High Peace Council said that some parts of the Moscow resolution would be added to their agenda.

"We are awaiting for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban", Taheri said.

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

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

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The US envoy said at a Washington think tank on Friday that Pakistan had played a positive rule in facilitating peace talks and also released a senior Taliban leader, Mullah Baradar, at his request.

"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.

The US is expected to resume talks with Taliban officials in Doha, where the insurgents have their political office, on February 25.

However, the Taliban have put out contradictory information on what timeline the United States had agreed to in any potential withdrawal.

The pace of any US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a major point of discussion - and concern - given the strength the Taliban still wields and the group's well-established history of hosting terror groups.

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

Shanahan's views on the Afghan war are not widely known.

The latest push for a peace came after President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Pakistan's help for the negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict. So far, though, he noted that the Taliban have been unwilling to take this step, arguing that the government is illegitimate.

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