Army official makes surprise visit to Afghanistan capital

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley made an unexpected visit to Afghanistan's capital on Thursday, meeting with President Ashraf Ghani to discuss opportunities to end the country's 17-year-long war.

“The two sides discussed the positive effectiveness of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, the leadership of the Afghan people and the peace process and their self-determination,” Ghani’s office said in a statement released Thursday.

"The Afghan government has the necessary programs on reform and it is moving towards a positive direction,” Ghani said in the meeting.

President Trump has reportedly indicated he plans to ramp down U.S. forces in Afghanistan by pulling out roughly half of the 14,000 troops currently deployed there. A spokesman for the National Security Council said in late December that the president has not made a final decision about possible troop withdrawal.

The news comes as the administration has ramped up efforts to end the country’s longest war.

Milley supports Afghan-led peace talks with the Taliban, an effort largely led by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has met several times with Taliban insurgents to try to bring both sides to the table, including last month.

But Taliban representatives have made clear throughout the negotiation process that they do not intend to make a deal through Ghani’s government and have refused direct talks.

The Trump administration, however, has insisted that any deal must be led by Afghan officials.

More U.S.-Taliban talks have reportedly been scheduled for later in January in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Ghani’s government, in a separate statement Thursday, also criticized comments made by Trump a day prior at a Cabinet meeting, where he said Russia and Pakistan should be fighting in Afghanistan, and not the United States.

“So you take a look at other countries - Pakistan is there. They should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting. The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight,” Trump said on Wednesday.

The Afghan government said Thursday it has asked the United States to provide clarification on Trump’s comments.

“There is a difference between official statements and the official policy of the country. For that reason, we have asked the United States to provide clarification regarding some statements, through diplomatic channels about certain policies, and we hope this will be shared with us in the near future,” Ghani’s office said in the statement.