Pentagon chief in Afghanistan as U.S. looks to kickstart Taliban talks

Pentagon chief in Afghanistan as U.S. looks to kickstart Taliban

Pentagon chief in Afghanistan as U.S. looks to kickstart Taliban talks

KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday in a bid to bring talks with the Taliban back on track after President Donald Trump abruptly broke off negotiations last month seeking to end the United States’ longest war.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

Esper’s trip to Kabul comes amid questions about the United States’ commitments to allies after a sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and Trump’s long-time desire to get out of foreign engagements.

“The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement. That is the best way forward,” Esper told reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan. He is due to meet President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. troops while in Afghanistan.

“I hope we can move forward and come up with a political agreement that meets our ends and meets the goals we want to achieve,” Esper said, adding that talks were in the State Department’s domain.

He added that the United States could go down to about 8,600 troops, from the current 14,000, without affecting counter-terrorism operations, if needed.

Trump halted talks with the Taliban, aimed at striking a deal for U.S. and other foreign troops to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, after it carried out a bomb attack in Kabul last month that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.

The United States says it has increased the pace of operations against militants in Afghanistan since Trump walked away from talks with the Taliban.

“U.S. policy in Afghanistan is so confused right now because on the one hand we’re hearing the messaging from Washington and particularly Trump about our endless wars, that it could be time to leave sooner or later,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center think-tank.

“On the other hand, you have U.S. military forces stepping up their pressure on the Taliban in more intense ways than ever before,” Kugelman said.

A Taliban delegation met U.S. special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad for more than an hour in Pakistan this month, though officials said it did not represent a resumption of formal negotiations.

Some U.S. officials believed Khalilzad would resign after Trump ended talks with the Taliban.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that after Trump’s sudden announcement that the United States would withdraw all its troops from northern Syria last week, there was more of a realization that Trump was serious about withdrawing from Afghanistan as well.

Esper’s trip to Afghanistan, his first to the country as defense secretary, comes at a time of political and security uncertainty across the war-torn country.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday Washington remained committed to peace and stability in Afghanistan as police searched for bodies in the rubble of a mosque in eastern Nangarhar province where bomb blasts killed at least 69 people.

Despite pulling off a safer presidential election than expected, Afghanistan looks headed for prolonged political uncertainty, with the two front-runners claiming victory before ballots are tallied and signaling they would not accept defeat.

Reporting by Idrees Ali in Kabul; Editing by Jane Merriman and Dale Hudson

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Pentagon chief in Afghanistan as U.S. looks to kickstart Taliban talks

KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. Protection Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday in a bid to deliver talks with the Taliban again on monitor after President Donald Trump abruptly broke off negotiations final month in search of to finish america’ longest battle.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Protection Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters throughout a media briefing on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

Esper’s journey to Kabul comes amid questions on america’ commitments to allies after a sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and Trump’s long-time want to get out of overseas engagements.

“The purpose is to nonetheless get a peace settlement in some unspecified time in the future, a political settlement. That’s one of the simplest ways ahead,” Esper advised reporters touring with him to Afghanistan. He’s due to meet President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. troops whereas in Afghanistan.

“I hope we will transfer ahead and provide you with a political settlement that meets our ends and meets the objectives we would like to obtain,” Esper mentioned, including that talks had been in the State Division’s area.

He added that america may go down to about 8,600 troops, from the present 14,000, with out affecting counter-terrorism operations, if wanted.

Trump halted talks with the Taliban, geared toward placing a deal for U.S. and different overseas troops to withdraw in trade for Taliban safety ensures, after it carried out a bomb assault in Kabul final month that killed 12 individuals, together with a U.S. soldier.

The USA says it has elevated the tempo of operations in opposition to militants in Afghanistan since Trump walked away from talks with the Taliban.

“U.S. coverage in Afghanistan is so confused proper now as a result of on the one hand we’re listening to the messaging from Washington and notably Trump about our limitless wars, that it could possibly be time to go away ultimately,” mentioned Michael Kugelman, senior affiliate for South Asia on the Wilson Heart think-tank.

“However, you’ve gotten U.S. army forces stepping up their stress on the Taliban in extra intense methods than ever earlier than,” Kugelman mentioned.

A Taliban delegation met U.S. particular consultant for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad for greater than an hour in Pakistan this month, although officers mentioned it didn’t characterize a resumption of formal negotiations.

Some U.S. officers believed Khalilzad would resign after Trump ended talks with the Taliban.

One U.S. official, talking on situation of anonymity, mentioned that after Trump’s sudden announcement that america would withdraw all its troops from northern Syria final week, there was extra of a realization that Trump was severe about withdrawing from Afghanistan as nicely.

Esper’s journey to Afghanistan, his first to the nation as protection secretary, comes at a time of political and safety uncertainty throughout the war-torn nation.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned on Saturday Washington remained dedicated to peace and stability in Afghanistan as police looked for our bodies in the rubble of a mosque in jap Nangarhar province the place bomb blasts killed at the least 69 individuals.

Regardless of pulling off a safer presidential election than anticipated, Afghanistan looks headed for extended political uncertainty, with the 2 front-runners claiming victory earlier than ballots are tallied and signaling they’d not settle for defeat.

Reporting by Idrees Ali in Kabul; Enhancing by Jane Merriman and Dale Hudson

Our Requirements:The Thomson Reuters Belief Ideas.
Facts Source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/topNews/~3/IKPnf62hAAI/pentagon-chief-in-afghanistan-as-u-s-looks-to-kickstart-taliban-talks-idUSKBN1WZ0C4

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