Published: Mon, February 11, 2019
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

The death toll of US service members in Afghanistan has surpassed 2,400 since the United States invaded the country in 2001.

The acting Pentagon chief said Washington has important security interests in the region and wanted to hear from commanders on the ground.

Trump has offered no specifics about when he would bring home US troops from Afghanistan but has said progress in negotiations with the Taliban would enable a troop reduction and a "focus on counter-terrorism". "It's not about the US, it's about Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters traveling with him from Washington.

A senior U.S. 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.

Some 14,000 US troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a USA -led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.

Shanahan replaced Jim Mattis, who quit in December over policy differences with US President Donald Trump.

The U.S. denies that any timeline for a withdrawal has been agreed yet with the Taliban, though CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin reported just before Christmas that the Pentagon had been ordered to start planning the withdrawal of roughly 7,000 troops.

USA officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since a year ago in what is widely seen as the most serious bid yet for peace in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by US -backed Afghan forces in late 2001. Those include the involvement of the Afghan government.

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The US is expected to commence a second round of talks with Taliban officials on February 25 in Qatar, where they have their political office.

Afghanistan and neighboring countries are concerned about the effect of a sudden withdrawal of US forces on the region. Since then, the administration has said it achieved a tentative "framework" for fuller peace negotiations with the Taliban.

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

Sources close to Taliban said that this time, the talks will be held between the United States special envoy and Taliban representatives led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released from Pakistan's prison last month.

Trump has offered no specifics about when he would bring home the 14,000 United States troops in Afghanistan but has said progress in negotiations with the Taliban would enable a troop reduction and a "focus on counter-terrorism".

Khalizad, who was appointed to his current post in September, said although he and the Taliban have made progress on the issue of a US troop withdrawal, that is just one among many issues and none has been fully resolved.

It was unclear whether the group had already left at the time of the statement.

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

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