Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan February 11, 2019.

The itinerary will take the USA delegation to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the statement said, adding that Khalilzad would "consult with the Afghan government throughout the trip".

After almost 18 years of US-led war in Afghanistan, the acting Pentagon chief, who temporarily took over after James Mattis resigned over Trump's decision to pull out of Syria, said that Afghanis must decide they future on "their own" - including how to deal with the Taliban.

The US has also been calling for direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government - especially after Moscow hosted a conference of high-profile Afghan delegates, which featured Taliban representatives but lacked officials from Kabul, who chose to boycott the talks. Kabul is also concerned that a sharp drawdown of USA forces could lead to chaos in the region.

But he stressed that peace terms are for the Afghans to decide. "It's not about the USA, it is about Afghanistan".

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

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.

In addition to battling the Taliban, U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are focused on an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate known as ISIS-Khorasan, comprised of foreign fighters largely from Pakistan. "(The) presence will evolve out of those discussions", Shanahan said.

Khalilzad will also consult with the Afghan government during the trip.

Thailand drops extradition proceedings against refugee footballer
The 25-year-old was detained in Bangkok more than two months ago for alleged vandalism offences in his native Bahrain. Hakeem Al Araibi , who fled Bahrain in 2014, was arrested in Bangkok at Bahrain's request.

USA officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since previous 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.

"We are awaiting for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban", Taheri said.

The next round of talks is due in Qatar on February 25.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said Shanahan's main priority in Kabul should be to address Afghan government concerns. He said the U.S. administration recognised Pakistan's role and wanted better relations with this "important country".

Mattis, a former four-star general once in charge of U.S. Central Command, was respected for his deep knowledge of military and global affairs. Shanahan had been Mattis' No. 2.

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

"No, there is no program for leaving Afghanistan", Butler told TOLOnews on Sunday.

"Of course it has given leverage to the Taliban, there is no question about that", the official said.

There are about 14,000 USA troops now deployed in Afghanistan, and the US administration reportedly plans to bring half of them home.

Once spoiler, Pakistan starts behind-scenes aid to U.S.-Taliban talks
In his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Trump said the time has come "to at least try for peace". The US has set July 2019 target for giving final shape to the peace accord with Taliban, sources said.

Speaking to journalists travelling with him, Shanahan said he had not received orders from the White House regarding a withdrawal of troops. "I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defence and supports regional stability".

The US envoy has in recent months met several times with Taliban officials in Qatar, where the group's leaders have an office in the capital Doha.

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

Most recently, a Taliban official said no timetable had been agreed with the US government for the partial withdrawal of USA forces.

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.

He reinforced United States support for the Kabul government before touching down in the Afghan capital.

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

Butler said the US-backed military pressure by Afghan forces on the Taliban will continue until the group endorses the peace process.

Votel noted that the Taliban are still capable of inflicting significant casualties on Afghan government forces.

Women Dominate Grammy Nominations
H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, Margo Price, Dua Lipa, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith are also up for best new artist . Grande is nominated for two awards and could miss the chance to give a speech onstage if she wins.

Related news