Important work remains to be done in Afghanistan, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan told reporters traveling with him while en route on his first trip to the country Feb. 10.
“I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan,” Shanahan said. “The direction — and this is 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.”
Khalilzad is the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation.
As Shanahan traveled to Afghanistan, negotiations between the United States and the Taliban for peace in Afghanistan were underway. Efforts to make that happen, he said, rest primarily on Khalilzad’s shoulders. Shanahan likened Khalilzad’s role in the effort to that of a quarterback on a football team.
Also part of that team is the U.S. military, Shanahan said.
Strong Security Interests
“I think the U.S. military has strong security interests in the region,” Shanahan said. “Its presence will evolve out of those discussions of where, what, concentration [and] how. All of that is extremely important, but we’re going to leave it to the teams to start to look at what mix combination makes the most sense.”
Also a part of the team is the Afghan government, Shanahan said, adding that their involvement is critical.
“It’s important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan,” he said. “The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future. They’re all — it’s not about the U.S., it’s about Afghanistan. The U.S. has significant, significant investment in ensuring security. But the Afghans decide their future.”
As to how or when the U.S. should leave Afghanistan, Shanahan emphasized that any withdrawal would be cautious and measured.
“I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability,” he said “And that any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner.”