Lolita C. Balbor/AP
Defense Secretary Mark Esper traveled to Afghanistan on Saturday in an work to restart peace talks with the Taliban just after President Trump scrapped plans for negotiations at Camp David final month.
His stop by to Kabul comes amid queries about the function of U.S. troops in the area just after Trump swiftly started withdrawing forces from northeastern Syria earlier this month. Esper told reporters traveling with him that these U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq to assistance in the fight against the Islamic State.
In terms of the U.S. objectives for Afghanistan, Esper mentioned the key objective is nonetheless for the Taliban and the Afghan government to broker a peace deal. The stalled talks have been a wrench in the Trump administration’s vow to eliminate some of the 14,000 troops primarily based in Afghanistan. The White Home has mentioned that the U.S. will only withdraw forces if each sides agree not to let Afghanistan to turn into a secure harbor for terrorists.
“The aim is to nonetheless get a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement. That is the finest way forward,” Esper told reporters, deferring to the State Division on queries about the status of these talks.
Esper mentioned the U.S. could lower the quantity of American troops in Afghanistan to eight,600 with out impacting counterterrorism operations, but any drawdown would be contingent on a peace deal.
“I know what we can go down to and really feel confident primarily based on reports I’ve gotten from the commander on the ground,” he mentioned.
At the final minute, Trump canceled a secret meeting in between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban final month just after the Taliban took duty for an attack in Kabul that killed 12 men and women, like a U.S. soldier.
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan reached a record higher lately, rising by 42% compared to the exact same period final year, according to the United Nations. The most recent was a deadly suicide bombing at a mosque in a tiny village in eastern Afghanistan that killed at least 66 men and women final week, according to the AP.
Esper’s trip also comes in the middle of an uncertain period for the Afghan government. Preliminary final results in final month’s presidential election have been withheld just after the vote was tainted by widespread corruption. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah mentioned they think they won sufficient votes to sustain energy.
Esper is scheduled to meet with Ghani and other senior government officials in his 1st trip to the nation as defense secretary. He is also set to meet with U.S. military officials who are top operations on the ground to talk about the way forward in the 18-year war.