Acting Pentagon Chief Makes Surprise Visit To Afghanistan

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'The US has significant - significant - investment in ensuring security, but the Afghans decide their future'.

After almost 18 years of US-led war in Afghanistan, the acting Pentagon chief, who temporarily took over after James Mattis resigned over Trump's decision to pull out of Syria, said that Afghanis must decide they future on "their own" - including how to deal with the Taliban. The Taliban want all American troops to withdraw. "It's not about the United States, it's about Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters travelling with him from Washington.

Ghani's government has been shut out of the peace talks between Taliban negotiators and USA envoys, with the hardline Islamist movement branding it a US puppet.

President Trump is pushing to end USA involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.

Shanahan was appointed as acting president of Pentagon in December after Trump forced Defense Secretary James Mattis to leave his post early.

The U.S. military turned its attention largely to Iraq in 2003, and eventually the Taliban were able to regenerate enough combat power to contest key battlefields, mainly in the south.

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

He said the aim of his trip was to get an understanding of the situation on the ground from commanders and then brief Trump on his findings.

USA officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since a year ago in what is widely seen as the most serious bid yet for peace in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by US -backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

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Khalilzad will also consult with the Afghan government during the trip.

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

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who had not been in Afghanistan until Monday, was scheduled to meet with Ghani and other top government officials.

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. Some U.S. forces also carry out counter-terrorism operations.

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

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

However, he told reporters, he has no particular instruction from the administration about any slashing of the American troop presence in Afghanistan from the current 14,000 soldiers.

It was unclear whether the group had already left at the time of the statement. Most recently, a Taliban official said no timetable had been agreed with the USA government.

Instead they met directly with US negotiators in Doha last month for peace talks described by US President Donald Trump as "constructive".