Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan landed in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit Monday amid increasing uncertainty about the future of the longest-running US war in history.
The insurgent group claimed last week that the Trump administration had agreed to pull half of the US forces in Afghanistan out of the country in just a couple months. He said ISIS still has a global presence.
Besides talking with Afghan government officials, Shanahan is also expected to meet USA troops and commanders on the ground during his first overseas visit in an official capacity.
Shanahan said from his plane that he had no orders to "step down our forces in Afghanistan", but was tasked with supporting ongoing peace talks between Washington and the Taliban.
"It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan", Shanahan said.
Shanahan took over as acting secretary of defence on January 1 after Jim Mattis submitted his resignation in December. "It's not about the United States, it's about Afghanistan", Shanahan said.
The US envoy said last week that he's hopeful a deal can be reached by July to end the US war in Afghanistan.
Shanahan, 56, has said his priorities would include the impending USA troop withdrawal from Syria and countering China's military might.
That included "achieving a political settlement to the war that ensures Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven from which terrorists can plan and launch terrorist attacks against the United States, our interests and our allies", Robertson said.
Khalilzad recently returned from talks with the Taliban in the Gulf nation of Qatar. Shanahan, a former Boeing executive and Mattis's deputy, is seen as a relative outsider in foreign policy circles. It's not about the U.S., it's about Afghanistan.
At the same time, US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces continue their effort to ensure that Afghanistan's military, which has taken heavy casualties and remains reliant on its small cadre of elite commandos for offensive operations, can fend off Taliban attacks.
But the Afghan leader, welcoming Shanahan to his 19th-century palace in central Kabul, made no mention of that to Shanahan in introductory remarks, which were witnessed by reporters. Over the past few weeks, a USA delegation has been engaged in talks with the Afghan officials trying to prepare for a United States pullout.
"Of course it has given leverage to the Taliban, there is no question about that", the official said.
"The presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability and then any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner", he said.
Khalilzad, who held talks with Taliban representatives four times in the last four months, has expressed cautious optimism about the prospect of a deal, and even announced a draft framework, but stressed nothing had been finalized.
Afghanistan's special forces units suffered increasingly heavy casualties a year ago as the Taliban mounted major assaults on provincial centers including Ghazni and Farah in the southwest.
Khalizad, who was appointed to his current post in September, said although he and the Taliban have made progress on the issue of a US troop withdrawal, that is just one among many issues and none has been fully resolved.
Shanahan said a withdrawal of about half the U.S. troops in Afghanistan was not something that was being discussed at this point and he had not been directed to reduce troop numbers.