US govt has important security interests in the region: Shanahan
Afghan president offers Taliban local office, but group wants Doha instead
Acting US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Afghanistan yesterday and said it was important the Afghan government is involved in talks, from which it has so far been excluded, to end the 17-year-old war.
Shanahan, who will meet US troops and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on his first trip in his new role, said he had so far not received any direction to reduce the nearly 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
He also said the United States had important security interests in the region.
Ghani's government has been shut out of the evolving peace talks between Taliban negotiators and US envoys, with the hardline Islamist movement branding his government a US puppet. Kabul is also concerned that a sharp drawdown of US forces could lead to chaos in the region.
"It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan," Shanahan told a small group of reporters traveling with him on the unannounced trip.
"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future. It's not about the US, it is about Afghanistan."
Shanahan took over from Jim Mattis, who quit in December over policy differences with US President Donald Trump.
He said he could not make any guarantees because US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was leading the talks.
"The US military has strong security interests in the region. (The) presence will evolve out of those discussions," Shanahan said.
He also said his goal on the trip was to get an understanding of the situation on the ground from commanders and then brief Trump on his findings.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday offered the Taliban the possibility of opening an office in Afghanistan but the proposal was swiftly spurned by the group that is determined to keep his government out of accelerating peace talks.