Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives unannounced in Afghanistan

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends a two-day conference on Afghanistan at the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland

Acting US Defense Secretary makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Monday it was important for the Afghan government to be included in talks to end the country's 17-year war, an involvement that the Taliban has so far rejected.

The Pentagon chief will meet President Ashraf Ghani who has warned against rushing into a deal with the group after Washington held major talks in Qatar last month.

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.

Some 14,000 US troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a USA -led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.

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.

Shanahan, who is also due to meet General Scott Miller, the top U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation commander in Afghanistan, told reporters aboard his flight to Kabul that he had no instructions from Washington to begin a withdrawal.

"The top priority of Shanahan has to be to impress upon the government that we're going to do everything we can to get you into this conversation", Kugelman said.

"The presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability and then any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner", he said.

He said it was crucial Kabul, whose representatives were not at the talks in Qatar, was involved in discussions over the future of Afghanistan.

While on his way to Afghanistan Shanahan stressed that peace terms are for the Afghans to decide.

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

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"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like".

Shanahan took over as acting secretary of defence on January 1 after Jim Mattis submitted his resignation in December.

Afghanistan and neighboring countries are also concerned about the effect a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces could have on the region.

Khalilzad said Friday that he hoped to see a peace deal in place before Afghanistan's July presidential elections. But Khalilzad emphasized that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.

Khalilzad's trip is part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that brings all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue, the statement said.

The months-long push by the U.S. to engage the Taliban has ostensibly been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with Kabul, which the insurgents consider a United States puppet.

But the insurgents, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, have steadfastly refused.

Sources close to Taliban said that this time, the talks will be held between the USA special envoy and Taliban representatives led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released from Pakistan's prison last month.

"Our demand about having an official political office is clear, we want that our office in Doha is recognised by the global community and the United Nations", Shahin said.

"Meetings here were more productive than they have been in the past".

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