Acting Pentagon chief supports Kabul role in peace talks

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

The Afghan Office of the National Security Council said Hamdullah Mohib, the country's national security advisor, had discussed the peace process with Shanahan.

USA officials have told Reuters that while no formal orders have been sent, the military is preparing for what a withdrawal of about half of the USA troops in Afghanistan would look like.

His remarks were in contrast to the US President's stance, who had earlier made clear his desire to bring an end to the 17-year Afghan conflict and withdraw the vast bulk of American forces. "It's not about the United States, it's about Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters travelling with him from Washington.

Shanahan said the USA has "strong security interests in the region" which will determine what happens with United States troop numbers.

He also met his Afghan counterpart Asadullah Khalid in Kabul and reassured him that the U.S. military would not abandon Afghan soldiers in their battle against the militants.

Addressing the "National Consultative Meeting on Peace" at the Presidential Palace on Monday, Ghani said the decision to hold a Jirga has been made on the advice of delegates of today's conference to help "dignified" peace in the country. The Taliban has refused to meet with the Afghan government calling it a "puppet" of the US.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said in testimony before Congress last week that current talks between U.S. and Taliban negotiators are "our first real opportunity for peace and reconciliation since the war began".

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Khalilzad had said that the Taliban would guarantee that Afghanistan will never be used as a base for terrorism in return for a full American withdrawal from the country and that Taliban concessions must include a ceasefire and agreement to hold talks with the Afghan government. It's a stark contrast with the overwhelming optimism of the Afghan people for a future of peace with liberty and dignity, which is achievable with continued worldwide support.

Afghanistan and neighbouring countries are concerned about the effect of a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces on the region. There are now around 14,000 United States troops stationed in Afghanistan.

'I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defence and supports regional stability'.

He has said since then there had been progress on the future of USA troops in Afghanistan.

A spokesman of the Defense Ministry, Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed, said military operations by Afghan forces are ongoing in at least 15 provinces.

US officials have told Reuters that, while no formal orders have been sent, the military is preparing for what a withdrawal of about half of the 14,000 USA troops in Afghanistan would look like.

"What we see here today is how capability is being generated and the commitment of special forces to fighting the Taliban", Shanahan said.

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