Senior US official on Afghan trip amid fresh peace push

Visit of acting US defense chief comes as Taliban not willing to meet Afghan officials for peace talks

Senior US official on Afghan trip amid fresh peace push

By Sahi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan 

Amid renewed push for the peaceful end to the Afghan conflict, the acting U.S. defense chief landed in the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday.

On his maiden trip to Afghanistan since taking the charge following the resignation of Jim Mattis over policy differences with President Donald Trump last year, Patrick Shanahan is visiting Afghanistan as Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s top envoy for Afghanistan, held six-day talks with the Taliban in Qatar last month.

The follow-up of the Qatar talks is set to take place on the same venue later this month.

“Mr. Patrick Shanahan reassured support for the Afghan National Army, and vowed the U.S. would not leave the Afghan National Defense and Security forces alone in the fight against terrorism”, the Defense Ministry noted in a statement after the visiting U.S. official met Assadullah Khalid, Afghan Defense Minister.

The Taliban are so far not willing to recognize or meet the Afghan government, an obstacle that is seen as the core of the deadlock in talks.

Last month, Washington and the Taliban announced that an agreement in principle was reached for the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in return for the guarantee that no threats of terrorism would emerge from here to the rest of the world.

On Sunday, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani told a public gathering that the government can offer security and offices to the Taliban in the Kabul, Nangarhar or Kandahar provinces if they wish to make peace.

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