'Acting' on world stage as Pentagon's Shanahan makes debut

'Acting' on world stage as Pentagon's Shanahan makes debut

U.S. acting secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan has reached Afghanistan on an unannounced visit amid a push by the United States to negotiate peace with the Taliban.

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

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. Talking to a group of reporters travelling with him, he said that it is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan. "The U.S. military has strong security interests in the region".

The former US ambassador to Kabul also called for direct talks to begin as soon as possible between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which thus far has not been involved in Khalilzad's talks. "We spend $50 Billion a year in Afghanistan and have hit them so hard that we are now talking peace".

The US has been giving lip-service to this idea for awhile, though indications are that they are planning to replace the Afghan government with an "interim government" that they'd give the Taliban positions within, a key part of why the US wanted the Afghan elections delayed.

Afghan troops have been struggling to contain Taliban forces that control or contest about half of the country and a growing number of fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).

Shanahan will hold talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the visit, in a bid to chalk out a peace deal to end the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan.

That progress, made during marathon talks between the two sides in the Qatari city of Doha over the last month, have administration officials confident a formal peace pact could be in place as soon as July. The unannounced visit is the first for the acting secretary of defense, Pat Shanahan.

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

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

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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.

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

"In short, the US may find it hard to convince Afghans to permit a heavily counterterrorism or even counterterrorism-only mission without making other concessions and at least agreeing to sustain funding for the Afghan security forces", he said.

Shanahan said a withdrawal of about half the United States troops was not something that was being discussed.

"I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability, and that any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner", he said.

As the United States mulls withdrawal from Afghanistan, recent media coverage has been punctuated with defeatism.

A spokesman of the Defense Ministry, Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed, said military operations by Afghan forces are ongoing in at least 15 provinces.

Officials have expressed concern that Afghan security forces, already stretched thin, could crumble if USA troops leave.

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

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