Shanahan visits Afghanistan as withdrawal and peace talks swirl

Shanahan visits Afghanistan as withdrawal and peace talks swirl

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan attends the meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS at the U.S. State Department, Washington, D.C., Feb. 6, 2019 (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

WASHINGTON — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan visited Afghanistan today to meet with Afghan leaders to, in part, reassure them that no quick exit of U.S. troops is planned.

It is Shanahan’s first overseas trip since becoming acting defense secretary in January. It comes as talks between the U.S. and the Taliban — but not the Afghan government — are proceeding in a quest for a framework peace plan as talk of a withdrawal of U.S. forces swirl.

“It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan,” Shanahan told the pool of Pentagon reporters joining him on the trip on Monday.

He told reporters that withdrawing half of the current 14,000 troops from Afghanistan — an idea floated by President Donald Trump — is not something presently being discussed, and flatly said “no” when asked about a withdrawal.

“I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan,” Shanahan told reporters. He said the military presence is “in close coordination with (Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo and Ambassador (John) Bolton is to support Ambassador (Zalmay) Khalilzad in these peace negotiations.”

Shanahan is to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Shanahan made his ’s remarks to a small group of Pentagon reporters known as a pool. Talk Media News is part of the group of reporters who rotate in the traveling pool and are provided the remarks directly.

He told reporters that Khalilzad is establishing the framework for parties to move forward a peace framework. He also said the U.S. has strong security interests in the region.

Khalizad left Washington over the weekend for meetings in Europe and the Middle East in regards to the peace efforts, according to news reports.

Shanahan said he would meet with Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, to compare the views of the situation and attempt to calibrate and “true-up the two.”

Shanahan heads to NATO meetings in Brussels at the end of the week.

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