Pentagon chief makes unannounced stop in Afghanistan

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia: reports The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet 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 MattisWatchdog: Former Pentagon spokeswoman misused staff for personal errands Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment 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.”