Acting Pentagon chief reaches Afghanistan on unannounced visit

Acting Pentagon chief reaches Afghanistan on unannounced visit

Kabul (Agencies): Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan on Monday arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit.

Shanahan will meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has warned against rushing into a deal after Washington held major talks with Afghan Taliban officials in Qatar last month that negotiators hope could herald a breakthrough in the grinding 17-year conflict.

Shanahan, who is also due to meet General Scott Miller, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, told reporters aboard his flight to Kabul that he had no instructions from Washington to begin a withdrawal, however.

United States President Trump is pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed. President Trump's announcement has raised fears in Afghanistan that the American troops could exit before securing a lasting peace between the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government.

Meanwhile, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is set to lead a large delegation on a six-nation tour, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, to boost the peace process and bring “all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue”.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the State Department said Khalilzad, who has undertaken extensive recent talks with the Taliban, would head an inter-agency delegation from February 10 to 28.

It was unclear whether the group had already left at the time of the statement. The itinerary will take the US delegation to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the statement said, adding that Khalilzad would “consult with the Afghan government throughout the trip.”