Acting US Defense Chief: Afghans Must Decide Own Future
During a trip to Afghanistan, America's acting defense chief said that the Afghan people must be a part of peace negotiations to shape the country's future.
Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan arrived Monday in Kabul for an unannounced visit. He held talks with President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan officials.
Before the meeting, Shanahan told reporters that he would make clear his support for Afghan officials being included in negotiations aimed at ending the country's 17-year war.
U.S. officials have led several rounds of talks with Taliban representatives in recent weeks. The goal of the talks is to reach a peace deal agreed to by all sides in the war.
Taliban fighters currently carry out near-daily attacks in the country, mainly on Afghan security forces. The Taliban currently controls about half the country's territory.
The war began when U.S.-led forces launched attacks shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. The military action was aimed at ousting the Taliban from power.
U.S. officials accused Taliban leaders of providing support to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his followers.
Zalmay Khalilzad is the U.S. negotiator who led the latest round of talks with Taliban representatives in the Gulf nation of Qatar. He has reported "significant progress" in the talks.
He said on Friday that he hopes a peace deal can be reached by July. That is when Afghanistan is set to hold a presidential election.
The next round of talks is set for February 25 in Qatar.
So far, the Taliban has refused to permit Ghani's government to join the peace talks. Taliban leaders say they do not recognize the current Afghan government.
U.S. officials have sought to resolve the disagreement so all parties can take part.
"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like," Shanahan told reporters. "It's not about the U.S., it's about Afghanistan," he said.
Shanahan also said he had not received orders from U.S. President Donald Trump to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. military has about 14,000 troops in the country. About 8,000 troops from 38 other countries are also involved in the effort.
During his State of the Union address last week, Trump said the United States would keep working toward a peace deal to end the Afghan war. "We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement," Trump said.
But he added: "We do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace."
I'm Bryan Lynn.