AT Monitoring Desk
KABUL: Washington will not unilaterally withdraw from Afghanistan, the Pentagon chief said on Thursday, as NATO said the Kabul government must be brought into US peace talks with the Taliban to end the country’s 17-year war.
Acting US defense secretary Patrick Shanahan said any decision to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan would be taken in coordination with NATO, which runs a training and support mission in the war-torn country. The US is leading a push for peace talks with the Taliban, seeking a breakthrough in the grinding conflict, with the Islamists announcing on 13 February 2019 a fresh round of meetings in Islamabad.
But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned against any more delay in involving the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani in the process, saying that without it lasting peace would not be possible.
US President Donald Trump wants to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed – raising Afghan fears that Washington could exit before securing a durable peace deal. But, after talks with fellow NATO defence ministers in Brussels, Shanahan said Washington would not act alone.
‘There will be no unilateral troop reduction. That was one of the messages in the meeting. It will be coordinated. We work together,’ he said after the meeting, which came after a tour of Kabul and Baghdad for Shanahan. ‘I feel as though we’re creating the diplomatic leverage Ambassador Khalilzad needs. We really need to talk about the possibility for peace. This may be our moment.’
The Taliban group recently held separate talks in Moscow with a senior delegation of Afghan politicians — including some of Ghani’s leading rivals.