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Khalilzad To Visit Six Nations In Quest For Peace

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Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad approaches the microphone to speak on the prospects for peace Friday Feb. 8 2019 at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington

USA officials have told Reuters that while no formal orders have been sent, the military is preparing for what a withdrawal of about half of the US troops in Afghanistan would look like.

However, he told reporters, he has no particular instruction from the administration about any slashing of the American troop presence in Afghanistan from the current 14,000 soldiers. He said IS still has a global presence. He said he had so far not received any direction to reduce the almost 14,000 USA troops in Afghanistan, but noted what he called strong US security interests in the region.

Shanahan replaced Jim Mattis as head of the Defense Department after Mattis resigned in protest to Trump's policies and left the job at the end of the year.

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.

Shanahan said a withdrawal of about half the United States troops in Afghanistan was not something that was being discussed at this point and he had not been directed to reduce troop numbers.

Miller, who previously commanded the elite Joint Special Operations Command, has overseen an increase in the pace of strikes and raids against militant targets, which officials hope will give diplomats leverage in their effort to establish negotiations.

Although the progress in Qatar was hopeful, analysts believed that reaching a final agreement is far from guaranteed, saying the Taliban still refuses to negotiate a political settlement with the Afghan government.

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

Khalilzad will also consult with the Afghan government during the trip.

Shanahan's visit to Afghanistan came as the United Nations said it was investigating "credible" reports of Afghan civilian deaths and injuries from an airstrike over the weekend in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.

According to a statement issued later by Cmdr.

For years, Pentagon leaders viewed the idea of striking a deal with the Taliban with skepticism, adding to an array of obstacles that scuttled past attempts.

"This trip is part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that protects United States 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", it said.

Shanahan's trip comes as the USA special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is setting off on a visit to several key countries as part of efforts to push a US peace initiative for the war-torn country.

Khalizad, who was appointed to his current post in September, said although he and the Taliban have made progress on the issue of a US troop withdrawal, that is just one among many issues and none has been fully resolved.

Shanahan described Khalilzad as the "quarterback" of the American effort in Afghanistan but said the Pentagon would also play an important role in the peace effort.

Taliban officials in Moscow last week stressed the importance of a formal office among a string of demands that included the removal of Western sanctions and travel bans on Taliban members, prisoner releases and an end to "propaganda" against the group. That uncertainly creates complications for negotiators and for military officials as they seek to reassure Afghans they will not leave overnight.

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