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The New Arab

US defence chief flies into Afghanistan with Taliban peace deal within reach

Patrick Shanahan made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 February, 2019

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The US acting defence chief is in Afghanistan for talks with President Ghani.


Acting US defence chief Patrick Shanahan arrived in Afghanistan on Monday for an unannounced visit to meet troops and the country's president.

Shanahan will meet President Ashraf Ghani, who has been trying to put the Afghan government at the heart of talks between the US and Taliban.

Shanahan will also meet the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, but the Pentagon chief said he has no instructions from Washington to begin a much talked about troop withdrawal from the country.

"I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan," Shanahan said, according to AFP.

"I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defence and supports regional stability."

President Trump is pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed, raising fears in Afghanistan that the US could exit before securing a lasting peace between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

Shanahan, who is also due to meet General Scott Miller, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told reporters aboard his flight to Kabul that he had no instructions from Washington to begin a withdrawal, however.


"I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan," Shanahan said.

"I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defence and supports regional stability."

US talks with the Taliban have been taking place in Qatar, where the Afghan militant movement has a political office.

Washington hopes that it can secure a peace agreement by the time of national elections later this year, but the Taliban have ruled out talks with the Afghan government which it views as a US proxy.

Shanahan said it was crucial Kabul were involved in talks on the future of Afghanistan, particularly as a peace deal could result in the Taliban competing in elections.

"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future. It's not about the US, it's about Afghanistan," Shanahan said.

"The US has significant - significant - investment in ensuring security, but the Afghans decide their future."

A touted US troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground, Zamay Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad is set to lead a large delegation on a six-nation tour, including Afghanistan, to boost the peace process and seek to bring all Afghan parties to the table.

The Taliban has ostensibly been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with Kabul, which the insurgents consider a US puppet.

Ghani spoke last week with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also stressed the importance of the Afghan government being at the centre of the peace process.

The Taliban have outlined their vision for Afghanistan, proposing an "inclusive Islamic system" of governance and demanding a new Islam-based constitution for the country.

Both parties released a statement at the conclusion of the talks promising to advance negotiations at a later date. 

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