Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan made his first-ever trip to Afghanistan on Monday, meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid. The unannounced visit included discussions of the framework for a peace deal U.S. negotiators said they have reached with the Taliban late last month.
So far, the Taliban has refused to include the Afghan government in those talks. Yet ultimately, "Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like," Shanahan told reporters Monday. "It's not about the U.S.; it's about Afghanistan."
Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a core feature of the deal framework, but Shanahan said he has "not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan." On the contrary, he argued "the U.S. military has strong security interests in the region" and suggested — in apparent disagreement with recent comments from U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States' lead negotiatior in the talks with the Taliban — that U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will "evolve" rather than end.