Acting defense chief Patrick Shanahan makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

Feb. 11 (UPI) — Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan Monday, telling reporters the Afghan government must have a say in peace talks with the Taliban.

Shanahan addressed peace talks that took place in Qatar last week with U.S. and Taliban leaders and Afghan politicians that aim to end U.S. troops’ 17-year presence in the country. American troops dislodged the Taliban from power after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

So far, the Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with Afghan government officials in their call for all U.S. forces to leave the country.

“It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan,” Shanahan told reporters during his trip to Kabul, Afghanistan’s TOLO News reported. “The U.S. military has strong security interests in the region. [The] presence will evolve out of those discussions.”

Last month, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said a framework for a peace deal had been reached with the Taliban in which U.S. troops would leave and the Taliban would promise not to allow al-Qaida or any terror group use Afghanistan as a base of operations.

“The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like,” Shanahan said. “It’s not about the U.S. It’s about Afghanistan.”

CNN reported that Shanahan talked with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and defense minister Asadullah Khalid during his brief stay.

President Donald Trump in December first floated the idea of pulling troops from Afghanistan after deciding to withdraw all troops from Syria. The announcement to remove troops from Syria led to the resignation of James Mattis as defense secretary.

Lawmakers, experts and foreign leaders have expressed their concern over U.S. troops leaving Syria.

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