Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is leading a six nation tour to boost the peace process in Afghanistan the State Department says

Since being appointed last September as the USA special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad has carried out a number of rounds of talks with the Taliban and other regional representatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, India, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. He said the U.S.is not seeking permanent military bases in Afghanistan and will leave if Kabul does not want US troops there, provided that there is no threat to USA national security from Afghanistan, particularly from terrorist groups.

Explaining the Taliban position on refusing to talk to the government in Kabul, Mr. Mujahid said that any talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani regime would have symbolic ramifications.

The emphasis on bringing "all Afghan parties together" appeared crucial.

The US envoy's most recent talks were in Doha late last month where the two sides met for six days. US-Taliban peace talks have not included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets, and Khalilzad said recently that intra-Afghan negotiations were essential.

Khalilzad said Friday that he hoped to see a peace deal in place before Afghanistan´s July presidential elections.

A defense official told CNN that Trump at the same time also made a decision to withdraw about half of the 14,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan. But Khalilzad emphasised that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.

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He has held a series of meetings with the Pakistani leadership as part of Washington's renewed push to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

In the letter, the United States had sought PM Imran's full support to advance Afghan peace process.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan landed in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit Monday amid increasing uncertainty about the future of the longest-running US war in history. Over the past few weeks, a United States delegation has been engaged in talks with the Afghan officials trying to prepare for a U.S. pullout.

"It's important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters on the flight.

The Trump administration's special envoy for Afghanistan is returning to the country after stops in Europe and the Middle East for an extended diplomatic tour aimed at pushing a US peace initiative.

"I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan", Shanahan said. The Taliban want all American troops to withdraw.

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