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Acting US Defense Chief: No Orders to Withdraw Troops from Afghanistan


Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, left, arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 11, 2019, to consult with Army Gen. Scott Miller, right, commander of U.S. and coalition forces, and senior Afghan government leaders.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said he has not received orders from President Donald Trump to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.

“I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan," Shanahan told reporters before an unannounced visit Monday to Kabul. "The direction... in close coordination with Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo and [National Security Advisor John] Bolton is to support Ambassador [Zalmay] Khalilzad in these peace negotiations."

Last week during the State of the Union Address, Trump once again slammed prolonged conflicts from Syria to Afghanistan, saying that "great nations do not fight endless wars." He told the crowd that as American diplomats made progress in Afghan peace negotiations, "we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism."

Shanahan said Monday the size of the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan would be determined in a "coordinated and disciplined manner."

"I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability," he said.

The acting defense secretary met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan's chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, and defense minister Asadullah Khalid while in Kabul.

He also visited a base outside of Kabul where U.S. special forces train their Afghan counterparts and spoke with U.S. Army Gen. Austin "Scott" Miler, who commands international forces in Afghanistan.

The trip comes as the United States is working to negotiate a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Shanahan stressed the importance of Afghan government involvement in peace talks.

"The U.S. has significant, significant investment in ensuring security, but the Afghans decide their future," he said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government has not been part of ongoing talks between U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban.

Khalilzad said last week he believes a peace agreement could be achieved before Afghanistan's presidential election in July. He and his team are due to meet with the Taliban again on February 25 in Qatar.

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