Published: Mon, October 21, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

USA defence chief in Afghanistan as U.S. aims to restart peace talks

USA defence chief in Afghanistan as U.S. aims to restart peace talks

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, visiting Afghanistan, has expressed his hope for the resumption of peace talks with the Taliban insurgent group.

Esper spoke to reporters before the meeting, saying: "The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement".

During the past year, the United States and the Taliban held nine rounds of negotiations in Doha, in which a draft agreement was reached, before President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled these negotiations last month following a bombing in Kabul in which an American soldier was killed.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, center, walks Gen. Scott Miller, right, chief of the U.S. -led coalition in Afghanistan, at the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019.

Esper told reporters that the number of US troops in Afghanistan could be reduced to around 8-thousand-600 from the current 14-thousand, if needed.

"We (Afghanistan) want USA support for Afghanistan and for expanding relations between the two countries in various areas, especially in the security sector", the presidential palace quoted Ghani as saying in a statement.

United States forces are training and advising Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

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USA envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had a preliminary peace deal with the Taliban, but a surge in Taliban violence and the death of an American soldier last month prompted Trump to cancel a secret Camp David meeting where the peace deal would have been finalized.

"It's the first known contact between the U.S. and Taliban since President Trump canceled peace talks with the insurgents in September", the report added. He visited Afghanistan in his previous job as a US Army secretary.

But he called off the visit because the Taliban had continued to carry out terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and said that he would not resume the peace talks as long as the attacks continued.

Esper and Pelosi arrived in Kabul on Sunday for unannounced visits to the country.

But the semi-official Voice of America broadcasting service reported on Saturday that Ambassador Khalilzad did meet a Taliban delegation earlier this month in Islamabad when both sides were there to meet Pakistani officials. Preliminary results in last month's presidential election have been withheld after the vote was tainted by widespread corruption.

Her office said in a statement on Sunday night the bipartisan delegation met with top Afghan leaders, civil society representatives and U.S. military chiefs and troops serving there. Officials said the announcement of preliminary results has been delayed due to problems with the transparency of the process, delays in transferring ballot papers and delays in transferring data from a biometric system into the main server.

CNN reported that Mr Esper's unannounced visit to Afghanistan was also his first to the war-ravaged country as the United States defence chief.

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