U.S. Afghan envoy to kick off intensive trip of 6 countries

Clay Curtis
February 11, 2019

The State Department said the trip "is part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that protects USA national security interests and brings all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue through which they can determine a path for their country's future".

Since being appointed last September as the USA special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad has carried out a number of rounds of talks with the Taliban and other regional representatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, India, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

Officials have expressed concern that if US troops leave, Afghanistan security forces, already stretched thin, could crumble.

The emphasis on bringing "all Afghan parties together" appeared crucial.

This comes as efforts are underway to start direct negotiations between Taliban and Afghan government to end the ongoing violence in Afghanistan but the Taliban leaders have so far rejected to participate in peace talks attended by government leaders.

The US envoy's most recent talks were in Doha late last month where the two sides met for six days.

At an event in Washington on February 8, Khalilzad told an audience that he expected a final deal could be reached before Afghanistan's presidential election in July. In a letter to Donald Trump last month, President Ashraf Ghani asked him to slow down the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and suggested cutting costs for the U.S. where possible. But Khalilzad emphasized that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.

He called on Taliban to come to Kabul for peace talks and promised that the government would offer them office and ensure their security similar to the security measures which were taken during the ceasefire in Eid-ul-Fitr.

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The Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government, calling it a "puppet" of the West. ButGhani's allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process.

Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan February 11, 2019.

"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. It's not about the U.S., it's about Afghanistan", Shanahan said.

An Afghan Senator, Gulalai Akbari, said Afghanistan needs "foreign assistance" until peace and stability are ensured in the country as he talked about the United States forces presence in Afghanistan.

"I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan", Shanahan said.

"The presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability and then any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner", he said.

Speaking to journalists travelling with him, Shanahan said he had not received orders from the White House regarding a withdrawal of troops.

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