USA envoy heads 6-nation tour for 'intra-Afghan' talks

11 Février, 2019, 13:11 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai first row second from left Abdul Salam Hanafi and other Taliban officials pray during the peace talks in Moscow Russia on Wednesday Feb 6 2019. ─ AP  File

However, he said some neighbors insist that they want an Afghanistan which is not be ruled by Ashraf Ghani, 'because they (neighbors) fear his initiatives'.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the USA special envoy leading the talks, has expressed hope at finding a deal before Afghan presidential elections scheduled for July, but has emphasised that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.

Shanahan took over as acting secretary of defense on January 1 after Jim Mattis submitted his resignation in December.

The Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad pictured on Friday at the US Institute of Peace, in Washington. Pat Shanahan, the recently installed acting secretary of defense, said he has no orders to reduce the US troop presence in the country, although officials say that's at the top of the Taliban's list of demands in exploratory peace negotiations.

The two-day talks were the Taliban's most significant engagement with Afghan leaders in years, and saw former president Hamid Karzai, among others, dining and praying with the insurgents - though without the involvement of the government it was unclear what impact they will have. "(The) presence will evolve out of those discussions", Shanahan said.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said Shanahan's main priority in Kabul should be to address Afghan government concerns. Shanahan had been Mattis' No 2.

Afghanistan and neighboring countries are also concerned about the effect of a sudden withdrawal of US forces on the region.

The pace of any US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a major point of discussion - and concern - given the strength the Taliban still wields and the group's well-established history of hosting terror groups.

An Afghan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that even the suggestion of US troops leaving was risky.

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.

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He has said since then there had been progress on the future of USA troops in Afghanistan.

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

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

In December, there were numerous reports that US President Donald Trump planned to halve the estimated 14,000 US forces in Afghanistan.

Besides talking with Afghan government officials, Shanahan is also expected to meet United States troops and commanders on the ground during his first overseas visit in an official capacity.

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

Shanahan's views on the Afghan war are not widely known.

"What we see here today is how capability is being generated and the commitment of special forces to fighting the Taliban", Shanahan said.

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

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