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Acting Pentagon Head  Arrives In Afghanistan On Surprise Visit

KABUL: Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan arrived in Afghanistan on a surprise visit Monday as the United States seeks to support the Kabul government while negotiating peace with the Taliban.

Shanahan will meet President Ashraf Ghani, whose government was not part of major talks between US and Taliban officials last month that negotiators hope could bring a breakthrough in the grinding 17-year conflict.

The US diplomat leading the talks has expressed hope at finding a deal before Afghan presidential elections scheduled for July, as President Donald Trump calls for an end to American military involvement in the war-torn country.

The Taliban consider the Kabul administration a US puppet but Ghani’s allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process.

The months-long push by the US to engage the Taliban has ostensibly been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with Kabul.

The insurgents have also met with a high-ranking delegation of Afghan politicians- including chief Ghani rivals – in Moscow last week to discuss their role in the country’s future and a possible path towards peace.