Pat Shanahan, Pentagon’s acting secretary of defense, visited Afghanistan on Monday to meet Afghan leaders and US troops. Shanahan filled in the shoes of James Mattis on January 1. It is speculated that the chief’s unannounced visit is aimed at holding peace talks with the Taliban.
Shanahan however, quashed theories about reducing US troops, although insiders claim that if talks are to succeed, the US has to comply with Taliban’s demand for cutting down its military power.
The defense secretary stated that the Afghans would lead the way in the peace talks. The US will have to break the deadlock involving the Taliban and the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Talibanis do not acknowledge Ghani’s government. They call it illegitimate.
Shanahan told the media, “The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. It’s not about the US, it’s about Afghanistan.” Shanahan has never been in Afghanistan before, and his take on the Afghan War is not known to many. He was likely to meet Ghani and other Afghan officials in his visit.
Trump administration’s special envoy for Afghan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, had said last week that he hoped closing the deal by July, when Afghanistan goes for presidential poll.
The Trump administration is keen on rolling back the US troops. This is evident from the statement given by General Joseph Votel, the commander of US Central Command; he said the connecting of the US with Taliban negotiators is USA’s “first real opportunity for peace and reconciliation since the war began”.
Votel stated that the Taliban still had the power to create huge casualties of Afghan government forces. Taliban insurgents, in an attack on an army base, recently killed around 24 Afghan soldiers.
Besides the Taliban, US troops and coalition forces are fighting ISIS-Khorasan that mostly has fighters from Pakistan. Votel said, “Left unchecked, ISIS-Khorasan will continue to grow as a threat to our homeland.”
Talking about the Daeash in Syria, Shananan said that although the outfit “has been decimated”, Syrian forces will have to make sure that the ISIS doesn’t come back. “If something hasn’t been completely eradicated, there is a risk of it returning,” the secretary of defense said.
President Trump’s views on Afghanistan have been ambivalent, to say the least. In his State of the Union address to Congress last week, he said, “We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement… but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”
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