Acting Pentagon chief lands in Afghanistan, supports Kabul role in peace talks

Afghan MP I'm very worried for women's rights

Acting Pentagon chief lands in Afghanistan, supports Kabul role in peace talks

A senior USA diplomat is set to lead a large delegation on a six-nation tour, including Afghanistan, to boost that country's peace process and bring "all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue", the State Department said Sunday. "It's not about the USA, it's about Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters travelling with him from Washington.

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, who took over the job after Jim Mattis quit in December over policy differences with U.S. President Donald Trump, said he could not make any guarantees because U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was leading the talks.

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

Shanahan took over as acting secretary of defense on January 1 after Jim Mattis submitted his resignation in December.

Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who is part of the national unity government established after 2014 controversial elections, once again lambasted Taliban for their refusal to talk with the Afghan government, saying that the efforts of the Taliban have been for "concession" not for having "real talks".

The next round of talks is due in Qatar on February 25.

"The top priority of Shanahan has to be to impress upon the government that we're going to do everything we can to get you into this conversation", Kugelman said. Pat Shanahan, the recently installed acting secretary of defense, said he has no orders to reduce the US troop presence in the country, although officials say that's at the top of the Taliban's list of demands in exploratory peace negotiations.

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

Trump has already said he is pulling out all 2,000 US troops in Syria, where they have been aiding a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against the Islamic State and other insurgent groups. Shanahan had been Mattis' No. 2. He said he would use this week's visit to inform his thinking and to report back to Mr. Trump.

Shanahan, making his first trip to Afghanistan in his new role, met US troops and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

In his remarks to reporters during his flight to Kabul, Shanahan said that although the ISIS presence in Syria "has been decimated", local Syrian security forces are needed to ensure stability. It's not about the USA, it's about Afghanistan. He said ISIS still has a global presence.

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

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

The US envoy has in recent months met several times with Taliban officials in Qatar, where the group's leaders have an office in the capital Doha.

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