Oct 20, 2019

Pentagon chief travels to Afghanistan to assess state of peace process

Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

Mark Esper arrived in Kabul on Sunday for his first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary, as he looked to jump-start peace talks that President Trump declared "dead" after a Taliban bombing killed an American servicemember in early September, AP reports.

The state of play: Esper's visit comes almost a month after Afghanistan's Sept. 28 election, the results of which have still not been announced amid technical ballot difficulties and allegations of fraud. More than 1,100 Afghan civilians were killed and 3,139 wounded between July and September, marking the deadliest three-month stretch of violence for civilians in the past decade, the Washington Post reports.

  • Esper said he plans to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and that "the aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point," per AP.
  • The U.S. currently has about 14,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. Trump had ordered the withdrawal of about 5,500 troops in conjunction with a peace deal struck with the Taliban, but September's events derailed his plans to end America's longest war.

Go deeper: Trump orders stepped-up military operations in Afghanistan

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As Pentagon chief makes surprise visit to Kabul, so does Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other top U.S. lawmakers met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, her office confirmed Sunday night. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was also in Kabul in an effort to restart stalled peace talks with the Taliban.

Details: President Trump had previously declared the peace talks "dead" after a Taliban bombing killed an American soldier in September. The issue of the Taliban was high on the agenda for the congressional delegation.

Go deeperArrowOct 21, 2019

Ghani: Taliban to free American University hostages in prisoner swap

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Getty Images

The Afghan government will release three high-ranking militants on the condition that the Taliban frees two American University professors, President Ashraf Ghani announced Tuesday, per Reuters.

Why it matters: The teachers, U.S. citizen Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, were captured by the Taliban outside the American University's Kabul campus in 2016, per AP.

Go deeperArrowNov 12, 2019

U.S. considering leaving 200 troops in Syria to defend oil fields

A military convoy of U.S. forces making its way through Erbil, Iraq. Photo: Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday during a trip to Afghanistan that the Pentagon is deliberating whether to station a “residual force” of U.S. soldiers in cities in eastern Syria to defend oil fields.

Why it matters: Stationing the residual force in a Syrian city would attach a major caveat to President Trump's pledge to stop U.S. involvement in “endless wars” in the Middle East.

Go deeperArrowOct 21, 2019