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  • U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan October 20, 2019.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan October 20, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 October 2019

The top defense official restated that his country could reduce its presence to 8,600 troops from the current 14,000, without affecting counter-terrorism operations, a claim made by Trump back in August.  

United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Afghanistan Sunday in a bid to kickstart talks with the Taliban after President Donald Trump abruptly broke off negotiations dismissing an already reached peace deal between the two factions. 

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“The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement. That is the best way forward,” Esper told reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan. He is due to meet President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. troops while in Afghanistan.

The top defense official restated that his country could reduce its presence to 8,600 troops from the current 14,000, without affecting counter-terrorism operations, a claim made by Trump back in August.  

Meanwhile, the country still awaits final results until Nov. 7. to see who won the presidency, incumbent Ashraf Ghani or his former deputy Abdullah Abdullah.

Both have claimed victory despite official counting still underway. If no candidate gets over half of the votes, a runoff vote will be held between the two leading candidates. 

As Afghanistan looks headed for prolonged political uncertainty, the U.S. says it has increased the pace of operations against militants in Afghanistan since Trump walked away from talks with the Taliban.

On Sept. 7 the president decided to unilaterally cancel talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders after the group claimed the attack in Kabul that killed a U.S. soldier and 11 civilians, despite already having already reached a draft peace deal between the Taliban and the U.S.

The insurgents denounced that an agreement had been “finalized” and that discussions had ended in “a good atmosphere,” but the deal had been sabotaged by Trump.

In an interview with Russia's RT, senior Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai expressed hope that Trump would rethink his position and come back to the negotiating table but also warned that if no agreement is reached the Taliban are ready to fight "for 100 years."

Without an end in sight, the war in Afghanistan will continue to be Washington’s longest conflict in its history. It was started after the September 11 attacks in New York City when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan as part of the so-called "war on terror" to dismantle Al-Qaeda by removing the Taliban from power. 

Almost US$975 billion has been spent and approximately 220,000 people have died.

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