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Acting Pentagon chief arrives in Afghanistan

China Daily | Updated: 2019-02-12 07:16

KABUL - Acting US defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit on Monday as the United States leads a push for peace talks with the Taliban.

Shanahan will meet Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who has warned against rushing into a deal after Washington held major talks with Taliban officials in Qatar last month that negotiators hope could herald a breakthrough in the grinding 17-year conflict.

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

"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. It's not about the US, it's about Afghanistan," Shanahan said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghan peace talks, said on 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.

According to US State Department, Khalilzad would lead an interagency delegation to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan from Feb 10 to 28.

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 US President Donald Trump.

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

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 US 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 US government 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."

Ap - Afp - Xinhua

(China Daily 02/12/2019 page11)

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