Againistan: Acting Pentagon Chief Supports Kabul Role in Peace Talks
By Reuters news agency/’s correspondent
By Idriss Ali
Both sides hailed progress after the latest round last month, although significant obstacles remain. Those include the involvement of the Afghan government.
The next round of talks is due in Qatar on Feb. 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.
“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.
Afghanistan and neighboring countries are concerned about the effect of a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces on the region.
An Afghan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said even the suggestion of U.S. troops leaving was dangerous.
“Of course it has given leverage to the Taliban, there is no question about that,” the official told Reuters.
Trump has offered no specifics about when he would bring home U.S. troops from Afghanistan but has said progress in negotiations with the Taliban would enable a troop reduction and a “focus on counter-terrorism”.
Shanahan said a withdrawal of about half the U.S. troops was not something that was being discussed.
“The presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability and then any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner,” he said
Khalilzad said after six days of talks with the Taliban in Doha last month that the United States and the Taliban had sketched the outlines for an eventual peace accord.
He has said since then there has been progress on the future of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have put out contradictory information on what timeline the United States has agreed to in any potential withdrawal. Most recently, a Taliban official said no timetable had been agreed with the U.S. government.
U.S. officials have told Reuters that while no formal orders have been sent, the military is preparing for what a withdrawal of about half of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan would look like.
Officials have expressed concern that Afghan security forces, already stretched thin, could crumble if U.S. troops leave.
Shanahan met with a group of elite Afghan commandos later on Monday and backed using more resources for offensive operations by the special forces.
Afghanistan’s special forces units suffered increasingly heavy casualties last year as the Taliban mounted major assaults on provincial centers including Ghazni and Farah in the southwest.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali in Kabul; Editing by Greg Torode, Paul Tait, Nick Macfie and Frances
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