On his first visit to Afghanistan as the United States’ top security official, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other officials on Sunday.
According to the press pool accompanying the minister, Austin arrived in Kabul early Sunday morning for an unannounced visit after a stop in India.
The defense secretary’s visit comes as the US decides whether or not to follow through on a deal agreed with the Taliban last year to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by May 1. As the deadline approaches, the Biden administration is seeking a six-month extension for American troops stationed there.
President Joe Biden “has not made a decision or made any announcements about when he’ll plan to withdraw” US troops from Afghanistan, Austin told reporters in New Delhi on Saturday.
“There is a rigorous process that’s ongoing as the President really works his way through making that decision and no decisions have been made. No decisions on length of stay or troop numbers have been made to this point,” Austin said.
In brief comments to reporters on Sunday, Austin said he had a “very helpful” meeting with Ghani, US Ambassador Ross Wilson and Gen. Scott Miller, the head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The defense secretary traveled to the country to “listen and learn,” he said.
When reporters asked if the Taliban had kept their promises in their deal with the US to ensure a US withdrawal, Austin said no “”It’s obvious that the level of violence in the country remains fairly high,” she added after saying she “did not want to comment” on the issue. We’d like to see the level of aggression decrease. And I believe that if it falls, it will begin to build the conditions for some genuinely fruitful diplomatic work.”
“In terms of an end date, or setting a particular date for withdrawal, that’s, that’s the domain of my boss,” Austin said on Sunday, “you know the decision that the President will make at some point in time, in terms of how he wants to handle this going forward.”
“I will continue to participate in a very meaningful way in a review that’s ongoing.” Additional information was added to this story on Sunday.