'Acting' on world stage as Pentagon's Shanahan makes debut

Leroy Wright
February 11, 2019

The US acting secretary of defense, Pat Shanahan, arrived unannounced in Afghanistan on Monday to meet with US commanders and Afghan leaders.

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

The acting Pentagon chief said Washington has important security interests in the region and wanted to hear from commanders on the ground.

The Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad pictured on Friday at the US Institute of Peace, in Washington.

The U.S. denies that any timeline for a withdrawal has been agreed yet with the Taliban, though CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin reported just before Christmas that the Pentagon had been ordered to start planning the withdrawal of roughly 7,000 troops.

"Our demand about having an official political office is clear, we want that our office in Doha is recognised by the worldwide community and the United Nations", Shahin said.

"We will bring a lasting and honourable peace to the country", he said.

It was not immediately clear if Shanahan and Khalilzad would be conducting joint discussions during their trips.

Shanahan will also have to grapple with how much allies will trust him. Shanahan, a former Boeing executive and Mattis's deputy, is seen as a relative outsider in foreign policy circles. Yet he chose instead to add about 3500 troops in 2017-2018 to bolster the USA effort to train and advise Afghan forces.

An Afghan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that even the suggestion of United States troops potentially leaving was unsafe.

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Shanahan, 56, has said his priorities would include the impending USA troop withdrawal from Syria and countering China's military might.

"Of course it has given leverage to the Taliban, there is no question about that", the official told Reuters.

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

A defense official told CNN that Trump at the same time also chose to withdraw about half of the 14,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan.

"We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement", Mr. 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".

However, the Taliban have put out contradictory information on what timeline the U.S. had agreed to in any potential withdrawal.

Officials have expressed concern that Afghan security forces, already stretched thin, could crumble if US troops leave.

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.

It was Shanahan's first-ever visit to Afghanistan, where American troops have been at war for 17 years and the Trump administration is pushing for a peace deal with the Taliban.

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