Acting Pentagon chief pays unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Acting Pentagon chief pays unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Agency News

Washington, Feb 12: Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan paid an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, where he met President Ashraf Ghani as the United States leads a push for peace talks with the Taliban, the US Department of Defence said on Tuesday.

Shanahan met Ghani on Monday, Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and other officials.

The Pentagon acting chief said earlier that he had not received orders to begin to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.

Shanahan's trip was widely believed to serve to relieve Kabul's increasing concern about its exclusion from recent talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban.

The Pentagon has reportedly stepped up airstrikes and special operations of raids in Afghanistan to the highest levels since 2014, aiming to give negotiators leverage in peace talks with the Taliban.

US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said at an event in Washington on February 8 that he expected a final deal could be reached before Afghanistan's presidential election in July.

However, Khalilzad pointed out "a number of issues left to work out," saying that an agreement "must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire."

Although the progress in Qatar was hopeful, analysts believed that reaching a final agreement is far from guaranteed, saying the Taliban still refuses to negotiate a political settlement with the Afghan government.

Another round of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban is tentatively set for February 25.

There are about 14,000 US troops currently deployed in Afghanistan, and Washington has reportedly planned to withdraw half of them. (UNI)