Top Pentagon official in Afghanistan amid push for peace

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends a two-day conference on Afghanistan at the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

"It's not about the USA, it's about Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters traveling with him from Washington.

While on his way to Afghanistan Shanahan stressed that peace terms are for the Afghans to decide. "It's not about the United States, it's about Afghanistan".

He said he had previously offered the Taliban to meet Afghan officials in Makkah to sanctify the peace talks but instead they went to Moscow.

Those talks have provided a glimmer of hope of an end to the war.

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who had not been in Afghanistan until Monday, was scheduled to meet with Ghani and other top government officials.

"The U.S. military has strong security interests in the region".

Besides talking with Afghan government officials, Shanahan is also expected to meet U.S. troops and commanders on the ground during his first overseas visit in an official capacity.

Shanahan said from his plane that he had no orders to "step down our forces in Afghanistan", but was tasked with supporting ongoing peace talks between Washington and the Taliban.

Votel noted that the Taliban are still capable of inflicting significant casualties on Afghan government forces.

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In the adjoining Haridwar district, the death toll had risen to 28 from 12 on Friday, Indian broadcaster NDTV reported. Spurious alcohol deaths are often reported in India , where people often drink cheap country made bootleg liquor.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said Shanahan's main priority in Kabul should be to address Afghan government concerns.

"No, there is no program for leaving Afghanistan", Butler told TOLOnews on Sunday.

Afghanistan and neighboring countries are also concerned about the effect of a sudden withdrawal of USA forces on the region.

A defense official told CNN that Trump at the same time also made a decision to withdraw about half of the 14,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan.

The US envoy has in recent months met several times with Taliban officials in Qatar, where the group's leaders have an office in the capital Doha. "I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defence and supports regional stability".

President Donald Trump has been pushing to end United States involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.

Officials have expressed concern that if USA troops leave, Afghanistan security forces, already stretched thin, could crumble. The U.S. denies that any timeline for a withdrawal has been agreed yet with the Taliban, though CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin reported just before Christmas that the Pentagon had been ordered to start planning the withdrawal of roughly 7,000 troops.

In addition to battling the Taliban, US and coalition forces in Afghanistan are focused on an Islamic State affiliate known as ISIS-Khorasan, comprised of foreign fighters largely from Pakistan.

Afghanistan's highly regarded special forces units suffered increasingly heavy casualties a year ago as the Taliban mounted major assaults on provincial centers including Ghazni city and Farah city in the southwest.

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