The US is considering slowing its military exit from Afghanistan by keeping a larger-than-planned troop presence this year and next because the new Afghan government is proving to be a more reliable partner, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday. Carter, on his first overseas trip since starting the Pentagon job Tuesday, also said the Obama administration is "rethinking" the counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan, although he did not elaborate. No decisions have been made, but President Obama will discuss a range of options for slowing the US military withdrawal when Afghan president Ashraf Ghani visits the White House next month, says Carter. The presidents also plan to talk about the future of the counterterrorism fight in Afghanistan, he says.
Meanwhile, after more than a decade of warfare, negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are set to begin, officials, diplomats and experts say. Ghani has declared that peace is closer now than at any time since the war began following 9/11, the AP reports. Yesterday, Ghani said that "the grounds for peace have never been better in the last 36 years" of continuous Afghan wars, including 13 years of conflict with the Taliban. Since taking office in September, Ghani has rolled out a complex strategy aimed at forcing the Taliban leadership to accept that their cause—replacing his government with an Islamist emirate—is hopeless. He has enlisted the support of regional countries believed to protect, fund and arm the Taliban, including Pakistan, which is apparently pressuring the insurgents to open a channel for peace negotiations. Click for more details.