U.S. Acting Defense Chief Arrives In Afghanistan On Unannounced Visit

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

USA acting secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan has reached Afghanistan on an unannounced visit amid a push by the United States to negotiate peace with the Taliban.

It was not immediately clear if Shanahan and Khalilzad would be conducting joint discussions during their trips.

United States officials have told Reuters that while no formal orders have been sent, the military is preparing for what a withdrawal of about half of the USA troops in Afghanistan would look like.

Reports that US President Donald Trump wants to withdraw about half of the estimated 14,000 US forces in Afghanistan, have raised concern among Afghan and regional officials about what effect it might have on security in the country.

Stressing the importance of the visit, the acting US Defence Secretary underlined that Washington has important security interests in the region and wanted to hear out from army commanders stationed in different parts of Afghanistan.

He can rethink his decision by sticking to his South Asia Strategy, in line with which Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had made an unprecedented peace offer to the Taliban with no preconditions.

The Foreign Minister said now the entire world support our stance regarding peace in Afghanistan.

Representatives of the United States and the Taliban militant group have held several rounds of talks in Qatar in an attempt to end the war in Afghanistan.

Earlier, he hailed the US-Taliban talks as "more productive than they have been in the past", saying they made "significant progress on vital issues".

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The key outcome of such a settlement seeks an honorable withdrawal of worldwide forces from Afghanistan against a self-inflicted "honorable capitulation", which entails far-reaching repercussions for the US national security and global peace. The unannounced visit is the first for the acting secretary of defense, Pat Shanahan.

"Beyond a [just] political agreement, future peace talks will need to address a range of thorny issues on cease-fires, prisoner releases, and human and women's rights protections as well as how to enforce the terms of an agreement", Mr. Worden said in a recent analysis of the Afghan peace process.

Afghanistan and neighbouring countries are also concerned about the effect of a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces on the region. "It's not about the United States; it's about Afghanistan". He says he is ready to pay the ultimate sacrifice for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

"Of course it has given leverage to the Taliban, there is no question about that", the official said. Since then, the administration has said it achieved a tentative "framework" for fuller peace negotiations with the Taliban.

He said it was crucial that Kabul, whose representatives were not at the talks in Qatar, was involved in discussions.

Alokozay said it is not clear whether Afghan or U.S. forces conducted the strikes.

Shanahan said in late January that he saw "some very encouraging possibilities" in Khalilzad's negotiations with the Taliban.

Afghanistan's highly regarded special forces units suffered increasingly heavy casualties previous year as the Taliban mounted major assaults on provincial centers including Ghazni city and Farah city in the southwest.

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