US Pen­tagon chief re­as­sures Afghans as Trump era dawns

Carter meets, Ghani, Amer­i­can troops

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

KABUL:

Pen­tagon chief Ash­ton Carter sought to reaf­firm US com­mit­ment to Afghanistan yes­ter­day, as un­cer­tainty lingers over Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s strategy on Amer­ica’s long­est war in the face of a re­silient Tale­ban in­sur­gency.

Carter met Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani and Amer­i­can troops on his last of­fi­cial trip to Afghanistan be­fore he hands over the reins to Trump’s pick for de­fense sec­re­tary, the hard­line re­tired gen­eral James Mat­tis. Carter’s surprise visit comes as con­cerns mount over grow­ing in­se­cu­rity in Afghanistan, where around 10,000 US troops are as­sist­ing strug­gling Afghan forces to com­bat a dogged Tal­iban in­sur­gency along with Al-Qaeda and Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

“Amer­ica is, and will re­main, com­mit­ted to a sovereign and se­cure Afghanistan,” Carter told re­porters at a joint press con­fer­ence with Ghani. “We stand with the peo­ple of Afghanistan who have put them­selves at risk and sac­ri­ficed so much.” Ghani thanked Carter for the US military sup­port and the sac­ri­fices of Amer­i­can troops in Afghanistan, even as un­cer­tainty looms over Trump’s pres­i­dency.

Trump has given sur­pris­ingly lit­tle de­tails on his ex­pected for­eign pol­icy, with even fewer specifics on how he will tackle the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan got scarcely a pass­ing men­tion in the bit­terly con­tested US presidential elec­tion-even though the sit­u­a­tion in the con­flict-torn coun­try will be an ur­gent mat­ter for the new pres­i­dent.

The Tal­iban are ramp­ing up na­tion­wide attacks de­spite the on­set of win­ter, when fight­ing usu­ally ebbs, even as in­ter­na­tional ef­forts in­ten­sify to jump­start peace talks. Fif­teen years and hundreds of bil­lions of dol­lars since the USled in­va­sion of Afghanistan in 2001, the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try re­mains fraught and Afghan forces are strug­gling to con­tain the con­flict. One of the most im­por­tant ques­tions fac­ing Trump on Afghanistan is how many Amer­i­can troops will stay in the coun­try, ob­servers say.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was forced to slow a planned with­drawal of US troops in the face of Tal­iban gains, and about 8,400 will re­main in the coun­try when he leaves of­fice early next year.

Mat­tis, whose nick­names in the military in­clude “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk”, has led troops in Afghanistan and has pre­vi­ously crit­i­cised Obama’s plan to pull forces from the coun­try.

Carter landed at Ba­gram Air­field, the largest US military base in Afghanistan, where four Amer­i­cans were killed in a suicide bomb­ing in Novem­ber, in a ma­jor breach of se­cu­rity.

The Tale­ban claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the bomb­ing in­side the heav­ily for­ti­fied base, north of the capital Kabul, which left 16 other US ser­vice mem­bers and a Pol­ish soldier wounded as the in­sur­gents step up attacks on West­ern tar­gets. — AFP

KABUL: Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani (right) and US De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter (left) wave af­ter a press con­fer­ence at presidential palace in Kabul yes­ter­day. —AP

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