Top Pentagon official in Afghanistan amid push for peace

Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, left, arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday morning, Feb. 11, 2019, to consult with Army Gen. Scott Miller, right, commander of U.S. and coalition forces, and senior Afghan government leaders. The unannounced visit is the first for the acting secretary of defense, Pat Shanahan. He previously was the No. 2 official under Jim Mattis, who resigned as defense chief in December. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)
FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2019, file photo, acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan speaks with the media as he waits for the arrival of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon in Washington. The Pentagon's top official, Shanahan, has arrived in Afghanistan to meet with U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders amid a push for peace with the Taliban. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, center, arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday morning, Feb. 11, 2019, to consult with Army Gen. Scott Miller, right, commander of U.S. and coalition forces, and senior Afghan government leaders. The unannounced visit is the first for the acting secretary of defense, Pat Shanahan. He previously was the No. 2 official under Jim Mattis, who resigned as defense chief in December. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)
Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan greets an Afghan commando at Camp Commando, Afghanistan on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. The unannounced visit is the first for the acting secretary of defense, Pat Shanahan. He previously was the No. 2 official under Jim Mattis, who resigned as defense chief in December. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Pentagon's top official made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday to meet with U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders amid a push for peace with the Taliban.

Pat Shanahan, the recently installed acting secretary of defense, said he has no orders to reduce the U.S. troop presence, although officials say that is at the top of the Taliban's list of demands in exploratory peace negotiations.

Shanahan said he is encouraged that President Donald Trump's administration is exploring all possibilities for ending a 17-year war, the longest in American history.

But he stressed that peace terms are for the Afghans to decide. Thus far the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, calling it illegitimate. Washington is trying to break that impasse.

"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. It's not about the U.S., it's about Afghanistan," Shanahan told reporters traveling with him from Washington.

Later, Shanahan flew to a military base ringed by snow-capped hills where he met Afghan army commandos, who are regarded as the most capable element of the Afghan military. He told reporters the U.S.-trained commandos are increasingly on the offensive against the Taliban.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the administration's special envoy for Afghan peace talks, said Friday that although talks are in an early stage, he hopes a deal can be made by July. That is when Afghanistan is scheduled to hold a presidential election.

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

Shanahan took over as acting secretary of defense on Jan. 1 after Jim Mattis submitted his resignation in December. Shanahan had been Mattis' No. 2.

Shanahan's views on the Afghan war are not widely known. He said he would use this week's visit to inform his thinking and to report back to Trump.

In testimony before Congress last week, Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, offered a largely optimistic view of Afghanistan, saying the current maneuvering between U.S. and Taliban negotiators is "our first real opportunity for peace and reconciliation since the war began."

Votel noted that the Taliban are still capable of inflicting significant casualties on Afghan government forces. Just last week the insurgents killed some two dozen Afghan troops in an attack on an army base in northern Kunduz province.

In addition to battling the Taliban, U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are focused on an Islamic State affiliate known as ISIS-Khorasan, comprised of foreign fighters largely from Pakistan. "Left unchecked," Votel said in his report to Congress, ISIS-Khorasan "will continue to grow as a threat to our homeland."

In his remarks to reporters during his flight to Kabul, Shanahan said that although the Islamic State presence in Syria "has been decimated," local Syrian security forces are needed to ensure stability. He said IS still has a global presence.

"If something hasn't been completely eradicated, there is a risk of it returning," he said.

Trump has taken an ambivalent approach to Afghanistan, saying his instinct upon entering office in 2017 was to withdraw. Yet he chose instead to add about 3,500 troops in 2017-2018 to bolster the U.S. effort to train and advise Afghan forces. After Mattis resigned in December, Trump insisted that he had been unhappy with how Mattis handled Afghanistan. Since then, the administration has said it achieved a tentative "framework" for fuller peace negotiations with the Taliban.

"We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement," Trump said in his State of the Union address to Congress last week, "but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace."

Must Read

A look at China's foreign policy challenges

Aug 10, 2016

China's simmering feud with South Korea over deployment of an American missile defense system is the latest in a string of foreign policy challenges piling up on President Xi Jinping's desk as he prepares to host next month's annual summit of G20 nations

If Trump can't get along with GOP, how will he govern?

Aug 9, 2016

Beyond the political fallout from Donald Trump's rocky relationship with party elders lies a fundamental reality: Should he win the presidency, the brash billionaire will have to work closely with the same GOP leaders he vilified on the campaign trail

Valeant's rosy forecast and promised changes, fire up shares

Aug 9, 2016

Drugmaker Valeant posts big 2Q loss, but execs tout turn-around plan and reassured investors drive up shares

People also read these

Hearing on Johnny Depp domestic violence allegations delayed

Aug 9, 2016

A judge is briefly delaying a restraining order hearing involving Johnny Depp and his estranged wife because it is expected to span several days; depositions of both actors set

Rare 4th-century mosaic of chariot race found in Cyprus

Aug 10, 2016

A Cypriot archaeologist says a mosaic floor dating to the 4th century has been uncovered depicting scenes from a chariot race in the hippodrome, the only one of its kind in Cyprus and one of only a handful in the world

Germany: 2nd arrest in connection with attack plan suspect

Aug 10, 2016

German authorities have arrested a man suspected of involvement in violence in Syria, an arrest that was triggered by the detention last week of a Syrian asylum-seeker who was suspected of planning to carry out an attack

Weather, 20 December
Houston Weather
+7

High: +11° Low: -2°

Humidity: 83%

Wind: NNE - 7 KPH

Canberra Weather
+27

High: +27° Low: +17°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: W - 20 KPH

Roissy-en-France Weather
+6

High: +6° Low: -5°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: ENE - 7 KPH

Florence Weather
+9

High: +9° Low: +6°

Humidity: 97%

Wind: ENE - 17 KPH

Parga Weather
+7

High: +16° Low: +4°

Humidity: 100%

Wind: SE - 25 KPH

About Us

We believe that information is the new age currency. Digital Press Network is your source for digital culture and innovation for the connected generation.

Popular News