Afghan president offers Taliban local office, but group wants Doha instead

Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad approaches the microphone to speak on the prospects for peace Friday Feb. 8 2019 at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan met with Afghan leaders in Kabul on Monday as the Trump administration makes an intensified diplomatic push to end the United States' longest war.

Shanahan said: 'I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, and President Donald Trump has indicated he wants a substantial withdrawal this year, although no such orders have been given, according to U.S. military officials.

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. "It's not about the USA, it's about Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters traveling with him from Washington.

Butler said Shanahan would meet with both the government and Resolute Support leadership and the talks would focus on national security concerns related to Afghanistan.

He also met his Afghan counterpart Asadullah Khalid in Kabul and reassured him that the U.S. military would not abandon Afghan soldiers in their battle against the militants.

Trump has already said he is pulling out all 2,000 USA troops in Syria, where they have been aiding a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against the Islamic State and other insurgent groups.

The US and Taliban representatives held multiple rounds of talks in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar amid opposition by Ghani's government which insisted on having a central role in the peace talks.

Votel noted that the Taliban are still capable of inflicting significant casualties on Afghan government forces.

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Shanahan addressed peace talks that took place in Qatar last week with USA and Taliban leaders and Afghan politicians that aim to end US troops' 17-year presence in the country.

Khalilzad, the former US ambassador to Kabul, had a six-day consultation with Afghan Taliban last month in Qatar.

Amidst the ongoing peace efforts, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) on Monday said the Afghan Defense and Security Forces backed by their foreign counterparts will increase their attacks on Taliban's strongholds. The unannounced visit is the first for the acting secretary of defense, Pat Shanahan.

"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future".

Chairing a meeting of Advisory Council for Foreign Affairs on Monday, he said that Pakistan is fulfilling collective responsibility efficiently to bring peace in Afghanistan with the cooperation of regional and worldwide partners.

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

'I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defence and supports regional stability'.

US officials have told Reuters that, while no formal orders have been sent, the military is preparing for what a withdrawal of about half of the 14,000 USA troops in Afghanistan would look like.

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