Friday, 22 February, 2019

No troop cut planned, says acting US Defence Secretary during Afghanistan visit

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan Acting US Defense Chief Visits Afghanistan
Ellis Copeland | 13 February, 2019, 13:05

Mattis' resignation came after Trump ordered the Pentagon, against the defense chief's recommendation, to work out a plan to withdraw approximately half of the almost 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan.

Those talks have provided a glimmer of hope of an end to the war.

Mr. Shanahan met General Scott Miller, the top USA and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation commander in Afghanistan, before visiting Camp Morehead where Americans train Afghan special forces.

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 Afghan Office of the National Security Council said Hamdullah Mohib, the country's national security advisor, had discussed the peace process with Shanahan.

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

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

Talk of any substantial troop reduction appears to be on hold for now as the White House tries to give diplomats a chance to foster peace talks. His arrival comes amid intense peace talks between the United States and the Taliban.

Sources told The New York Times last month that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is anxious American negotiators will agree to the formation of an interim government that includes the Taliban in some way. Yet he chose instead to add about 3500 troops in 2017-2018 to bolster the U.S. effort to train and advise Afghan forces.

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.

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USA troops invaded in October 2001 and toppled the Taliban government within weeks after Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan.

Ghani described the Moscow talks as "nothing more than fantasy". There, he told reporters that the fate of Afghanistan has to be decided by Afghans.

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.

For years, Pentagon leaders viewed the idea of striking a deal with the Taliban with skepticism, adding to an array of obstacles that scuttled past attempts.

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.

"It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan", Shanahan said, according to the reports. Backed by 2,000 US 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.

At an extraordinary moment in Pentagon history, a former business executive with little political stature and without military experience is making his worldwide debut as the acting US defense secretary.

The Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad pictured on Friday at the US Institute of Peace, in Washington.

The wild card is Trump, who has long voiced a desire to leave Afghanistan but in 2017 approved a recommitment to the military effort at the urging of his advisers. He will holds talks with Afghan President Ghani.

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