U.S. Protection Secretary Makes Secret Go to to Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Protection Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III landed in Afghanistan’s capital Sunday morning, turning into the primary member of President Biden’s cupboard to set foot within the nation that’s residence to America’s longest warfare.

The US is tentatively set to withdraw American forces from the nation on Could 1, the date set in an settlement signed by the Trump administration and the Taliban greater than a yr in the past.

Talking to reporters earlier than his departure from Afghanistan, Mr. Austin declined to touch upon whether or not the Taliban had met their obligations below that settlement.

“It’s apparent that the extent of violence stays fairly excessive within the nation,” Mr. Austin mentioned. “We’d actually wish to see that violence come down, and I feel if it does come down it could start to set the circumstances for some actually fruitful diplomatic work.”

Mr. Austin demurred on the concept of setting a distinct departure date for U.S. forces, saying that Mr. Biden would make that call.

“What we need to see is a accountable finish to this battle,” he added.

Mr. Biden mentioned in an interview with ABC Information broadcast this previous week that assembly the deadline could be “powerful.” On Saturday, talking with reporters in India, Mr. Austin expressed confidence that he may take away all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Could 1, ought to the president direct him to take action.

Roughly 3,500 U.S. troops at the moment are stationed in Afghanistan, 1,000 greater than authorities officers had beforehand disclosed. The New York Occasions reported the upper troop ranges final week, citing a senior U.S. official who famous that some Particular Operations forces had been put “off the books.” American troops have had a steady presence within the nation since 2001.

The protection secretary’s go to got here on the finish of greater than every week of journey throughout the Pacific throughout which he reassured allies that they might have the USA’ assist in countering potential threats from China.

First, at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, the secretary was briefed by Adm. Philip S. Davidson on varied threats within the area and the way American navy belongings have been deployed in response. Flying subsequent to Japan and South Korea, Mr. Austin joined Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken for talks with the international and protection ministers of each nations.

Each secretaries emphasised the Biden administration’s stance that diplomacy would once more be the USA’ first plan of action in international affairs.

In New Delhi, the place Mr. Austin met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the protection minister, Rajnath Singh, senior U.S. protection officers mentioned that Indian leaders spoke largely about their issues concerning China. It was solely towards the tip of their talks that the problem of Pakistan — India’s neighbor and conventional principal enemy — got here up.

The journey, Mr. Austin’s first as a cupboard member, comes as Mr. Biden seeks to construct a collection of safety agreements with varied nations that would band collectively to answer Chinese language navy operations within the South and East China Seas.

One such settlement between the USA, Australia, Japan and India — known as “the Quad” — was repeatedly cited by each Mr. Austin and Mr. Blinken as a mannequin for mixed navy operations in area. Mr. Austin didn’t ask South Korea to hitch the Quad throughout his time in Seoul, in keeping with a senior protection official.

Mr. Austin’s journey to Kabul was saved secret, and was to stay confidential till two hours after he left, however native reporters broke information of his go to after he met with President Ashraf Ghani.

The secretary’s arrival in Kabul got here on Nowruz, the Persian new yr — a date on which the Islamic State in Afghanistan had pledged to hold out assaults. That led the Pentagon to maintain the secretary’s go to below wraps so long as doable.

After touchdown in Kabul, Mr. Austin boarded a U.S. Military Black Hawk helicopter for a quick flight to the headquarters of the American navy mission. Simply off the previous soccer stadium that serves because the command’s heliport, Gen. Austin S. Miller, the American commander in Afghanistan, shortly walked Mr. Austin by means of a warren of small buildings and tall concrete blast partitions to his workplace.

Mr. Austin advised reporters that he had no explicit message that he conveyed to Mr. Ghani, preferring as a substitute to hearken to the Afghan president’s ideas on the scenario in his nation.

“We’ve carried out quite a bit to work with the Afghan safety forces,” Mr. Austin mentioned in response to a query concerning issues Afghans may need following a U.S. withdrawal. “And I don’t need to speculate about what may occur or what couldn’t occur going ahead.”

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