Top Pentagon official in Afghanistan amid push for peace

Talks with the Taliban have previously been made to negotiate peace. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 February 2019
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Top Pentagon official in Afghanistan amid push for peace

  • The unannounced visit is the first for the acting secretary of defense, Pat Shanahan
  • Shanahan said he is encouraged that Trump’s administration is exploring all possibilities for ending a 17-year war

KABUL, Afghanistan: The Pentagon’s top official made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday to meet with US commanders and Afghan leaders amid a push for peace with the Taliban.
Pat Shanahan, the recently installed acting secretary of defense, said he has no orders to reduce the US troop presence, although officials say that is at the top of the Taliban’s list of demands in exploratory peace negotiations.
Shanahan said he is encouraged that President Donald Trump’s administration is exploring all possibilities for ending a 17-year war, the longest in American history.
But he stressed that peace terms are for the Afghans to decide. Thus far the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, calling it illegitimate. Washington is trying to break that impasse.
“The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. It’s not about the US, it’s about Afghanistan,” Shanahan told reporters traveling with him from Washington.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the administration’s special envoy for Afghan peace talks, said Friday that although talks are in an early stage, he hopes a deal can be made by July. That is when Afghanistan is scheduled to hold a presidential election.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who had never been in Afghanistan until Monday, was scheduled to meet with Ghani and other top government officials.
Shanahan took over as acting secretary of defense on Jan. 1 after Jim Mattis submitted his resignation in December. Shanahan had been Mattis’ No. 2.
Shanahan’s views on the Afghan war are not widely known. He said he would use this week’s visit to inform his thinking and to report back to Trump.
In testimony before Congress last week, Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of US Central Command, offered a largely optimistic view of Afghanistan, saying the current maneuvering between US and Taliban negotiators is “our first real opportunity for peace and reconciliation since the war began.”
Votel noted that the Taliban are still capable of inflicting significant casualties on Afghan government forces. Just last week the insurgents killed some two dozen Afghan troops in an attack on an army base in northern Kunduz province.
In addition to battling the Taliban, US and coalition forces in Afghanistan are focused on a Daesh affiliate known as Daesh-Khorasan, comprised of foreign fighters largely from Pakistan. “Left unchecked,” Votel said in his report to Congress, Daesh-Khorasan “will continue to grow as a threat to our homeland.”
In his remarks to reporters during his flight to Kabul, Shanahan said that although the Islamic State presence in Syria “has been decimated,” local Syrian security forces are needed to ensure stability. He said IS still has a global presence.
“If something hasn’t been completely eradicated, there is a risk of it returning,” he said.
Trump has taken an ambivalent approach to Afghanistan, saying his instinct upon entering office in 2017 was to withdraw. Yet he chose instead to add about 3,500 troops in 2017-2018 to bolster the US effort to train and advise Afghan forces. After Mattis resigned in December, Trump insisted that he had been unhappy with how Mattis handled Afghanistan. Since then, the administration has said it achieved a tentative “framework” for fuller peace negotiations with the Taliban.
“We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement,” Trump said in his State of the Union address to Congress last week, “but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”


Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

Updated 18 min 50 sec ago
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Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

  • South Korean diplomatic missions increases scrutiny of visa applicants
  • Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea

SEOUL: South Korea is on high alert after a UN Security Council report warned hundreds of Uzbeks linked to terrorist networks could have entered the country.

The report on Daesh and Al-Qaeda stated members of the Katibat Imam Al-Bukhari and Katibat Al-Tawhid wal Jihad groups had requested entry to South Korea via Turkey. The militants chose the South due to the large Uzbek community already living there.

“Many ethnic Uzbeks request deportation from Turkey to the Republic of Korea, where the total number of Uzbeks is estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000,” the reports states. “Some Uzbek migrant workers in the Republic of Korea are reported to have been radicalized, and to be a source of financing for the travel of extremists to the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Seoul has asked South Korean diplomatic missions overseas to increase scrutiny of Uzbeks applying for South Korean visas.

“Upon receiving the UN report, we ordered the immigration office to tighten its screening of Uzbek travelers from Turkey,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement. 

“We also asked our embassy in Turkey and other diplomatic offices overseas to thoroughly examine the travel documents of Uzbek visa applicants while closely watching any unusual movements (regarding Uzbeks) here and abroad.”

Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea, so they are required to apply at the South Korean Embassy in Uzbekistan. If they have permanent residence or long-term residency in another country, however, they can apply for a visa in a third country.

“We’ll limit issuing visas to Uzbek citizens confirmed to have visited banned countries, including Syria,” a ministry spokeswoman told Arab News. “In addition, we’ll try to block the entry of terror suspects while strengthening cooperation with foreign governments to stop any influx of terrorists to our nation.”

Terrorism is rare in South Korea, but fear and hatred toward terrorism prevail though the nation has a very small Muslim community of about 135,000, 0.3 percent of the population.

South Korea sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s at the request of the US. In 2004, a South Korean worker in Iraq was beheaded by militants who called for the withdrawal of South Korean troops from their country.

In 2007, 23 South Korean missionaries were abducted by members of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Two of the hostages were executed before a deal was reached for their return.

In 2015, an Indonesian was arrested by Korean police for suspected links to a terrorist group. The 32-year-old was suspected to have links to Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. In that same year, the National Intelligence Service revealed that 10 South Koreans had tried to contact Daesh.