Acting Pentagon chief makes visit to Kabul, denies U.S. troop cuts

Acting Pentagon chief makes visit to Kabul, denies U.S. troop cuts

Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Monday it was important for the Afghan government to be included in talks to end the country's 17-year war, an involvement that the Taliban has so far rejected.

The Afghan Office of the National Security Council said Hamdullah Mohib, the country's national security advisor, had discussed the peace process with Shanahan.

A spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense said Monday that USA government-backed Afghan forces are fighting the Taliban in at least 15 provinces, TOLONews reports.

The militants, who were toppled by US-led forces in 2001, last week held separate talks in Moscow with a senior delegation of Afghan politicians - including chief Ghani rivals.

"It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters during his trip to Kabul, Afghanistan's TOLO News reported.

The statement said that "the trip is part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that protects USA national security interests and brings all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue through which they can determine a path for their country's future".

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who had never been in Afghanistan until Monday, was scheduled to meet Ghani and other top government officials.

He also met his Afghan counterpart Asadullah Khalid in Kabul and reassured him that the United States military would not abandon Afghan soldiers in their battle against the militants.

The Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad pictured on Friday at the US Institute of Peace, in Washington.

Ghani's government has so far been excluded from the ongoing talks between the United States and the Taliban, which view the Kabul government as illegitimate. Afghan National Defense and Security Forces will ramp up attacks on Taliban strongholds, said Ghafoor Jawed, a spokesman for the ministry.

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Instead they met directly with US negotiators in Doha last month for peace talks described by US President Donald Trump as "constructive".

The attendees in Moscow talks, held on February 5 and 6, issued a nine-article declaration in which the two sides agreed on continuation of the talks, supporting a powerful centralized government and on protecting the achievements of last 18 years in Afghanistan.

He said: 'The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future.

Hence, the commonsensical question: why should the US repeat the same mistake it once made, which forced its reintervention in Afghanistan in the first place?

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

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

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

He told reporters that his goal on the trip was to get an understanding of the situation on the ground from commanders and then brief Mr Trump on his findings.

Officials have expressed concern that if U.S. troops leave, Afghanistan security forces, already stretched thin, could crumble.

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

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