Monday 11 February 2019 - 09:39

Acting pentagon chief visits Afghanistan, urges Kabul role in talks with Taliban

Story Code : 777328
Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan (front 2nd R) arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan, on February 11, 2019, on a surprise visit. (Photo by AFP)
Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan (front 2nd R) arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan, on February 11, 2019, on a surprise visit. (Photo by AFP)

Patrick Shanahan arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday and is scheduled to sit down for talks with President Ashraf Ghani and visit the American troops deployed to the country.

Ghani’s government has so far been excluded from talks between the US and the Taliban, which view the Kabul government as illegitimate.

Upon arrival in Afghanistan, Shanahan said coordination with the Kabul government to end more than 17 years of militancy is vital. “It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan,” he added.

“The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future. It’s not about the US, it is about Afghanistan,” he said. “The US military has strong security interests in the region. (The) presence will evolve out of those discussions.”

He, however, said no direction has been given to him to reduce the number of US forces on Afghan soil.

The acting Pentagon chief also said he was in Afghanistan to get an insight of the situation on the ground from American commanders.

Shanahan took over from Jim Mattis, who stepped down in December 2018 amid differences with President Donald Trump. Mattis’ resignation came after Trump ordered the Pentagon, against the defense chief’s recommendation, to work out a plan to withdraw approximately half of the nearly 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan.

Representatives of the US and the Taliban militant group have held several rounds of talks in Qatar in attempt to end the war in Afghanistan.

The latest round of US-Taliban talks was held last month, and the next round is due in Qatar on February 25.

Efforts to negotiate a peace deal have been beset by disagreement in recent weeks as leaders of the militant group reject the Kabul government’s offer for direct talks.

Earlier this week, the Taliban dismissed Ghani’s offer to open a political office in Afghanistan, saying the offer was aimed at “harming the peace efforts.”

Washington’s efforts to get out of the Afghan war come around 17 years after the US invaded Afghanistan together with a number of its allies.

That invasion removed Taliban from power, but has failed to contain the group’s militancy campaign to this day.

Currently, Kabul only controls 55 percent of the country’s territory, while the militants have a grip on 12 percent of the Afghan soil, according to a report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) published in October last year. About a third of the country remains contested.

Daesh has also used the mayhem in Afghanistan to establish a foothold there.