Published: Mon, October 21, 2019

EU hopeful of Afghan ceasefire following breakdown in US-Taliban talks

EU hopeful of Afghan ceasefire following breakdown in US-Taliban talks

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper (center), is greeted by U.S. military personnel upon arriving in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.

The congressional visit coincided with one by Esper, who told reporters "the aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement".

Trump halted talks with the Taliban, aimed at striking a deal for USA and other foreign troops to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, after it carried out a bomb attack in Kabul last month that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.

Esper also took part in a meeting with Ghani and visited some of the 14,000 USA troops still in Afghanistan, where the United States has spent 18 years since leading an global coalition to punish Al-Qaeda and oust the extremist Taliban.

Secretary Esper told reporters travelling with him that he believed the U.S. could reduce its force in Afghanistan to 8,600 without hurting its mission to force Al Qaeda and militant Islamic State group out of that country.

"We (Afghanistan) want USA support for Afghanistan and for expanding relations between the two countries in various areas, especially in the security sector", the presidential palace quoted Ghani as saying in a statement. He added that an agreement could decrease the number of USA troops in the country without affecting counter-terrorism operations.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper traveled to Afghanistan on Saturday in an effort to restart peace talks with the Taliban after President Trump scrapped plans for negotiations at Camp David last month.

Esper and Pelosi arrived in Kabul on Sunday for unannounced visits to the country. He would not say how long he believes it may be before a new peace accord could be achieved. Esper's arrival in Kabul came as Afghan government leaders delayed the planned announcement of preliminary results of last month's presidential election.

The lawmakers' trip to the Middle East and South Asia occurred amid questions about the United States' commitment to its allies after President Donald Trump's sudden withdrawal of USA troops from northeastern Syria over his long-time desire to unwind from foreign military engagements.

Esper planned to meet with his top commanders in Afghanistan as the United States works to determine the way ahead in the 18-year war.

In tweets commenting on his meeting with Ghani, Kobia said he had "discussed post-elections context, peace talks resumption and ceasefire + next steps combining both" with the 70-year-old Afghan president. Trump, since his 2016 presidential campaign, has spoken of a need to withdraw USA troops from the "endless war" in Afghanistan.

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