US Defence Secretary arrived in Afghanistan
21 October, 2019
KABUL: US Defence 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.
Esper’s trip to Kabul comes amid questions about the United States’ commitments to allies after a sudden withdrawal of US 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 travelling with him to Afghanistan. He is due to meet President Ashraf Ghani and US 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 Departments 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.
“US 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 Centre think-tank.
“On the other hand, you have US military forces stepping up their pressure on the Taliban in more intense ways than ever before,” Kugelman said.
A Taliban delegation met US 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.