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Pentagon chief in surprise Afghanistan visit amid frustration in US

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis (2nd L) arrives in Kabul on Sept. 7, 2018. (Photo AFP)

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit amid US push for talks with the Taliban which are calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops. 

US President Donald Trump had promised to pull out troops from Afghanistan but he unveiled a revamped Afghan strategy last August, which increased troop levels. 

The Taliban say they will not enter talks unless US troops leave the country and have pledged to make Afghanistan "another graveyard" for foreign forces. 

The militants have overtaken several districts in a spate of brazen attacks in recent months, including Ghazni which was briefly overtaken by the militants last month, jolting the government in Kabul because the central city is close enough to the capital. 

Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end following the US invasion in October 2001 but the new strategy includes talks with the Taliban which they toppled. 

Afghan security forces are seen patrolling along a road in the city of Ghazni on August 14, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

There is speculation that a meeting between US and Taliban representatives could be held this month.

In his visit, Mattis is accompanied by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General Joseph Dunford. He was expected to meet with President Ashraf Ghani and the new US commander for US forces General Scott Miller.

Before flying to Kabul, Mattis said that there is “still hard fighting but right now we have more indications that reconciliation is no longer just a shimmer out there, no longer just a mirage.” 

He said there was now “some framework” for talks and open lines of communication, but did not elaborate.

Mattis arrived in Kabul from New Delhi where he and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with their Indian counterparts. Pompeo visited Pakistan on Wednesday and held talks with new Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The top US diplomat himself made an an unannounced visit to Afghanistan in July. The stepped-up shuttling comes amid fears that Trump is growing frustrated with the situation in Afghanistan and the little pace of progress in talks with the Taliban. 

The Taliban accepted an unprecedented ceasefire in June, but later rejected a second proposal for halting hostilities.

Almost two decades after the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the militants have gone from strength to strength. 

Since late last year, Daesh has also taken advantage of the chaos in Afghanistan and established a foothold in the country’s eastern and northern regions, launching brutal attacks against civilians and security forces alike.

Defeated in Iraq and Syria, the Takfiri group has reportedly taken recruits from Taliban defectors in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.

On Wednesday, a twin bomb attack in a Shia neighborhood of Kabul killed at least 26 people, underscoring the challenges which Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces are faced with.

Russia had been preparing to host peace talks in Moscow with the participation of 12 countries, including the US, and Taliban representatives.

The peace talks, planned for September 4, were however cancelled after Ghani told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Kabul needed more time to come up with a “consolidated position” on the issue.

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