The US acting secretary of defense, Pat Shanahan, arrived unannounced in Afghanistan on Monday to meet with US commanders and Afghan leaders.
Speaking to journalists travelling with him, Shanahan said he had not received orders from the White House regarding a withdrawal of troops.
Shanahan’s visit comes amid a push for peace by the US and the Taliban.
The Taliban has continued to insist on the total withdrawal of troops from the country, and have until now refused to engage in dialogue with the Afghan government.
Shanahan meanwhile said he was encouraged that the US is exploring all possibilities for ending a 17-year war, the longest in American history.
While on his way to Afghanistan Shanahan stressed that peace terms are for the Afghans to decide.
“The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. It’s not about the US, it’s about Afghanistan,” Shanahan said.
This is Shanahan’s first trip to Afghanistan after taking over from Jim Mattis on January 1.
“It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan,” Shanahan told a small group of reporters traveling with him on the unannounced trip.
“The US military has strong security interests in the region. (The) presence will evolve out of those discussions,” Shanahan said.
He also said his goal on the trip was to get an understanding of the situation on the ground from commanders and then to brief Trump on his findings.
US officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since last year in what is widely seen as the most serious bid yet for peace in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
Reuters meanwhile reported that Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said Shanahan’s main priority in Kabul should be to address Afghan government concerns.
“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.