Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan landed in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit Monday amid a push for peace with the Taliban, the U.S. media reported.
Shanahan, who will meet U.S. troops and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said he had so far not received any direction to reduce the nearly 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The United States has important security interests in the region, he told a small group of reporters traveling with him on the unannounced trip.
Thus far the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, calling it illegitimate. Washington is trying to break that impasse.
“It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan,” Shanahan said as quoted by Reuters. “The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future. It’s not about the U.S., it is about Afghanistan.”
Shanahan took over from Jim Mattis, who quit in December over policy differences with U.S. President Donald Trump.
He said he could not make any guarantees because U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was leading the talks.
He also said his goal on the trip was to get an understanding of the situation on the ground from commanders and then to brief Trump on his findings.
It comes as the U.S. envoy Khalilzad left Washington on Sunday on yet another peace mission that includes talks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Qatar.
The U.S. State Department said Ambassador Khalilzad and his interagency delegation would also consult officials in Belgium, Germany, and Turkey before arriving in the region for further talks. The trip, which began on Sunday, will continue till Feb 28, when the chief US negotiator is expected back in Washington for consultations.
The State Department said the trip “is part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that protects U.S. national security interests and brings all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue through which they can determine a path for their country’s future”.
Khalilzad will meet “our allies and partners to discuss mutual efforts to advance that goal and will consult with the Afghan government throughout the trip”, the statement noted.
With Inputs from Reuters