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Pentagon Chief Meets Afghan President, Officials on Surprise Afghanistan Trip

Pentagon Chief Meets Afghan President, Officials on Surprise Afghanistan Trip

Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan says there is no order to withdraw USA forces from Afghanistan and the Afghan government should participate in peace talks with the Taliban, in remarks on a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Monday.

"We are after a peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement".

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.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his arrival, Shanahan said he had not received orders to withdraw.

Shanahan was appointed as acting president of Pentagon in December after Trump forced Defense Secretary James Mattis to leave his post early.

"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.

United States officials, led by chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar and other countries in the region in the past eight months, in what is widely seen as the most serious bid yet for peace in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by United States troops and US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

"It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan", Shanahan said.

Shanahan replaced Jim Mattis as head of the Defense Department after Mattis resigned in protest to Trump's policies and left the job at the end of the year.

But it raises fears in Afghanistan that the USA could exit before securing a lasting peace between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

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"Our demand about having an official political office is clear, we want that our office in Doha is recognised by the global community and the United Nations", Shahin said. Shanahan had been Mattis' No 2.

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

Shanahan's views on the Afghan war are not widely known.

At the same time, US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces continue their effort to ensure that Afghanistan's military, which has taken heavy casualties and remains reliant on its small cadre of elite commandos for offensive operations, can fend off Taliban attacks. Over the past few weeks, a United States delegation has been engaged in talks with the Afghan officials trying to prepare for a U.S. pullout.

Taliban officials in Moscow last week stressed the importance of a formal office among a string of demands that included the removal of Western sanctions and travel bans on Taliban members, prisoner releases and an end to "propaganda" against the group.

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.

He has said since then there had been progress on the future of US troops in Afghanistan.

He has said since then there has been progress on the future of USA troops in Afghanistan.

While the USA talks with the Taliban have focused on troop presence and assurances that terrorist networks would not be given haven, Khalilzad said intra-Afghan talks could also deal with human rights, freedom of the press and the role of women, who were harshly oppressed under Taliban rule.

The US dropped 7,362 weapons during airstrikes in 2018 in Afghanistan - approaching double the number of 2017, US Air Forces Central Command figures show.