Acting Pentagon chief supports Kabul role in peace talks

By Idrees Ali

KABUL (Reuters) – Appearing U.S. Protection Secretary Patrick Shanahan mentioned on Monday it was essential for the Afghan authorities to be included in talks to finish the nation’s 17-year conflict, an involvement that the Taliban has thus far rejected.

Shanahan, making his first journey to Afghanistan in his new function, met U.S. troops and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. He mentioned he had thus far not acquired any path to scale back the practically 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, however famous what he known as robust U.S. safety pursuits within the area.

Ghani’s authorities has been shut out of the peace talks between Taliban negotiators and U.S. envoys, with the hardline Islamist motion branding it a U.S. puppet. Kabul is anxious {that a} sharp drawdown of U.S. forces may result in chaos within the area.

“It’s important that the Afghan authorities is concerned in discussions relating to Afghanistan,” Shanahan informed reporters touring with him on the beforehand unannounced journey. “The Afghans should resolve what Afghanistan appears like sooner or later. It is not concerning the U.S., it’s about Afghanistan.”

Shanahan, who took over the job after Jim Mattis give up in December over coverage variations with U.S. President Donald Trump, mentioned he couldn’t make any ensures as a result of U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was main the talks.

“The U.S. army has robust safety pursuits within the area. (The) presence will evolve out of these discussions,” Shanahan mentioned.

He mentioned the purpose of his journey was to get an understanding of the scenario on the bottom from commanders after which temporary Trump on his findings.

Shanahan’s assembly with Ghani lined a spread of protection points essential to the bilateral relationship, Pentagon spokesman Commander Sean Robertson mentioned.

That included “attaining a political settlement to the conflict that ensures Afghanistan isn’t once more used as a protected haven from which terrorists can plan and launch terrorist assaults in opposition to the USA, our pursuits and our allies,” Robertson mentioned.

U.S. officers have held a number of rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since final 12 months in what’s broadly seen as probably the most critical bid but for peace in Afghanistan because the Taliban have been ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

Either side hailed progress after the newest spherical final month, though vital obstacles stay. These embrace the involvement of the Afghan authorities.

The following spherical of talks is due in Qatar on Feb. 25.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist on the Woodrow Wilson Middle, mentioned Shanahan’s most important precedence in Kabul ought to be to handle Afghan authorities issues.

“The highest precedence of Shanahan must be to impress upon the federal government that we will do every part we will to get you into this dialog,” Kugelman mentioned.

‘LEVERAGE’

Afghanistan and neighboring nations are involved concerning the impact of a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces on the area.

An Afghan official, talking on the situation of anonymity, mentioned even the suggestion of U.S. troops leaving was harmful.

“In fact it has given leverage to the Taliban, there isn’t any query about that,” the official informed Reuters.

Trump has provided no specifics about when he would convey dwelling U.S. troops from Afghanistan however has mentioned progress in negotiations with the Taliban would allow a troop discount and a “deal with counter-terrorism”.

Shanahan mentioned a withdrawal of about half the U.S. troops was not one thing that was being mentioned.

“The presence we would like in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland protection and helps regional stability after which any kind of sizing is completed in a coordinated and disciplined method,” he mentioned.

Khalilzad mentioned after six days of talks with the Taliban in Doha final month that the USA and the Taliban had sketched the outlines for an eventual peace accord.

He has mentioned since then there was progress on the way forward for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have put out contradictory info on what timeline the USA has agreed to in any potential withdrawal. Most lately, a Taliban official mentioned no timetable had been agreed with the U.S. authorities.

U.S. officers have informed Reuters that whereas no formal orders have been despatched, the army is getting ready for what a withdrawal of about half of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan would seem like.

Officers have expressed concern that Afghan safety forces, already stretched skinny, may crumble if U.S. troops go away.

Shanahan met with a bunch of elite Afghan commandos afterward Monday and backed utilizing extra sources for offensive operations by the particular forces.

Afghanistan’s particular forces items suffered more and more heavy casualties final 12 months because the Taliban mounted main assaults on provincial facilities together with Ghazni and Farah within the southwest.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali in Kabul; Modifying by Greg Torode, Paul Tait, Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry)

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