Pentagon chief in Afghanistan as US looks to kickstart Taliban talks – World

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday in an attempt to resume talks with the Taliban after President Donald Trump abruptly interrupted negotiations last month to end the longest US war United.

Esper's trip to Kabul comes amid questions about the United States' commitments to the allies after a sudden withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria and Trump's desire to leave foreign commitments for a long time .

“The objective is to achieve a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement. That is the best way forward, "Esper told reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan. He plans to meet with President Ashraf Ghani and US troops while in Afghanistan.

"I hope we can move forward and reach a political agreement that meets our goals and meets the goals we want to achieve," Esper said, adding that the talks were in the domain of the State Departments.

He added that the United States could be reduced to about 8,600 soldiers, of the current 14,000, without affecting counter-terrorism operations, if necessary.

Trump suspended talks with the Taliban, with the goal of reaching an agreement for US and foreign troops to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, after he carried out a bomb attack in Kabul last month he killed 12 people, including an American soldier.

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

"The US policy in Afghanistan is so confused right now because, on the one hand, we are listening to the messages from Washington and particularly from Trump about our endless wars, that it might be time to leave sooner or later," said Michael Kugelman, associate South Asian principal at the Wilson Center.

"On the other hand, there are US military forces that increase their pressure on the Taliban more intensely than ever," Kugelman said.

A Taliban delegation met with the United States special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, for more than an hour in Pakistan this month, although authorities said it did not represent the resumption of formal negotiations.

Some US officials believed that Khalilzad would resign after Trump ended talks with the Taliban.

An American official, who spoke 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, he realized that Trump was also serious about withdrawing Afghanistan.

Esper's trip to Afghanistan, the first in the country as secretary of defense, comes at a time of political uncertainty and security throughout the country devastated by the war.

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

Despite holding presidential elections that are safer than expected, Afghanistan seems headed for prolonged political uncertainty, with the two main candidates claiming victory before the ballots are counted and pointing out that they will not accept defeat.

Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1511943/pentagon-chief-in-afghanistan-as-us-looks-to-kickstart-taliban-talks

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