Acting Pentagon chief supports Kabul role in peace talks

Afghan MP I'm very worried for women's rights

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

The talks come as US President Donald Trump pushes to end the Afghan conflict, where about 14,000 US troops are still deployed, and which has seen countless civilian and military deaths, as well as an infusion of more than $1 trillion in US cash into the country. "(The) presence will evolve out of those discussions", Shanahan said.

Acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan greets an Afghan commando at Camp Commando, afghanistan, on February 11, 2019.

"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.

U.S. officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since past year 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.

The former USA ambassador to Kabul also called for direct talks to begin as soon as possible between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which thus far has not been involved in Khalilzad's talks.

Shanahan took over as acting secretary of defense on January 1 after Jim Mattis submitted his resignation in December. Sean Robertson, a military spokesman, the talks highlighted the need for a political settlement "that ensures Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven from which terrorists can plan and launch terrorist attacks against the United States, our interests, and our allies". He said the U.S.is not seeking permanent military bases in Afghanistan and will leave if Kabul does not want US troops there, provided that there is no threat to USA national security from Afghanistan, particularly from terrorist groups.

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.

The US envoy said last week that he's hopeful a deal can be reached by July to end the US war in Afghanistan. Shanahan had been Mattis' No 2. "We are in the early stage of a protracted process", he said.

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

But the Afghan leader, welcoming Shanahan to his 19th-century palace in central Kabul, made no mention of that to Shanahan in introductory remarks, which were witnessed by reporters. Those include the involvement of the Afghan government, which the Taliban refuse to acknowledge.

At the same time, USA 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.

An Afghan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said even the suggestion of US troops leaving was risky.

Shanahan said a withdrawal of about half the USA troops in Afghanistan was not something that was being discussed at this point and he had not been directed to reduce troop numbers.

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

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

Khalilzad, the former USA ambassador to Kabul, had a six-day consultation with Afghan Taliban last month in Qatar. Yet he chose instead to add about 3500 troops in 2017-2018 to bolster the United States effort to train and advise Afghan forces.

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