Pentagon chief makes unannounced stop in Afghanistan

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Kaine asks Shanahan if military families would be hurt by moving .6B for border wall America desperately needs a confirmed defense secretary MORE stopped in Afghanistan on Monday in a previously unannounced visit to meet with local officials amid ongoing peace negotiations with Taliban leaders.

The Associated Press reported that Shanahan said he's encouraged by the latest push to bring an end to the lengthy war. He added that he was not in the country with orders to reduce U.S. troop presence.

Shanahan reportedly met with Afghan military leaders, and was set to talk with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. He stressed that Ghani's government should have a central role in peace talks, though the Taliban has thus far refused to negotiate with the Afghan leader, the AP noted.

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“The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like. It’s not about the U.S., it’s about Afghanistan,” Shanahan told reporters, according to the news service.

Monday marked Shanahan's first visit to Afghanistan since he was named acting Defense secretary in late December, when he replaced former Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Top US general: Trump wrong on Syria pullout, ISIS defeat MORE.

The trip comes amid a new breakthrough in peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban. U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told The New York Times after talks with the Taliban in Qatar last month that the U.S. reached a preliminary framework for a peace agreement with the insurgents in America’s longest war.

He said last week that the U.S. hopes  to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban before the Afghan elections in July, but the country’s elections will go forward, regardless.

“I understand that peace processes are not a straight line. There could be setbacks,” he said. “Between now and July, there is sufficient time, I believe, where we could reach an agreement. But at least if we have significant progress, that will have a good impact with regard to the future and including the elections.”