US vows to work with allies on any Afghanistan withdrawal

US acting Defense Secretary said if troop cuts are made, Washington will consult NATO to ensure coordination.

    Shanahan has said he is encouraged that Trump's administration is exploring all possibilities to end the longest war [AFP]
    Shanahan has said he is encouraged that Trump's administration is exploring all possibilities to end the longest war [AFP]

    The United States will not reduce its troop presence in Afghanistan unilaterally, the top Pentagon official said, pledging that any moves will be fully coordinated with its allies.

    "There will be no unilateral troop reductions," acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters after his first meeting with NATO defence chiefs on Thursday.

    "That was one of the messages: It will be coordinated. We're together."

    Shanahan said he told his NATO counterparts that the US-led alliance would work together to increase what he called diplomatic leverage over the Taliban as the West seeks a political settlement.

    "What we talked about was, how do we double down on support for Afghan national defence and security forces to put even more pressure on the Taliban," Shanahan said.

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    US officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar and other regional countries since last year, in what is widely seen as the most serious bid for peace in the Afghan war.

    Both the Taliban and the US hailed progress after the end of the last round of negotiations in Doha last month.

    There are concerns that smaller US troop numbers could hamper operations by NATO allies that rely on American air and logistic support.

    NATO's top military officer, US General Curtis Scaparrotti, said that he has not been asked to plan for any withdrawal.

    "I don't have the direction to do it, or the guidance to do it, or the decision to drive it," he told reporters.

    About half of US forces are part of the NATO Resolute Support mission which mainly advises and trains Afghan forces. The NATO mission includes about 8,000 troops from 38 other countries.

    The other half of US forces are involved in "counterterrorism" missions. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) are both present in Afghanistan.

    When requested, US troops assist Afghan forces with air power or in battles with the Taliban, who carry out near-daily assaults on Afghan soldiers and police.

    The Taliban control, influence or hold sway over nearly half the country more than 17 years after they were overthrown by a US-led coalition.

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    In his State of the Union address last week, US President Donald Trump said progress in negotiations with the Taliban would allow a reduction in the approximately 14,000 US troops currently in Afghanistan and a renewed "focus on counterterrorism".

    Taliban negotiators will meet US officials on February 18 in Pakistan's capital Islamabad. 

    Talks in Doha would follow a week later on February 25, a Taliban statement said on Wednesday.

    SOURCE: News agencies