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13 February 2019, 01:04 | Devin Moran
Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan
"Mr. Patrick Shanahan reassured support for the Afghan National Army, and vowed the US would not leave the Afghan National Defense and Security forces alone in the fight against terrorism", the Defense Ministry noted in a statement after the visiting USA official met Assadullah Khalid, Afghan Defense Minister. Backed by 2,000 USA troops, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they are in a final showdown against ISIS after helping to drive the group from the towns and cities that once formed its self-proclaimed caliphate in eastern Syria.
According to multiple reports, Shanahan told reporters Monday that he did not have orders to start withdrawing troops, but a Taliban political official said in Moscow last week that the Taliban had already received word from the USA that Pentagon personnel in the country would be halved. He said the U.S.is not seeking permanent military bases in Afghanistan and will leave if Kabul does not want USA troops there, provided that there is no threat to us national security from Afghanistan, particularly from terrorist groups.
Shanahan is expected to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
He also met his Afghan counterpart Asadullah Khalid in Kabul and reassured him that the United States military would not abandon Afghan soldiers in their battle against the militants. "It's not about the U.S., it is about Afghanistan", he said.
Some in Afghanistan have opposed any peace deal with the Taliban, while the Taliban has so far refused to negotiate with the government in Kabul, calling government officials puppets of the West. In recent weeks, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, announced that his team of negotiators had reached agreement in principle on core issues between the United States and the Taliban, a step diplomats hope will set the stage for broader peace discussions that include the Afghan government.
The latest round was held last month, and the next round is scheduled for February 25.
The discussions focused on two issues: The complete withdrawal of foreign troops and how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists once again.
The Afghanistan trip is Shanahan's first overseas trip since December, when the former Boeing executive stepped into the role of acting defense secretary after the resignation of former Defense Secretary James Mattis.
It said the trip is intended "to facilitate a peace process that protects USA 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".
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