Austin Travels, Unannounced, to Afghanistan for Talks

Defense secretary, Ghani meet after Biden said withdrawal date would be tough to meet
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 21, 2021 10:45 AM CDT
Defense Chief Makes Secret Trip to Kabul as Deadline Nears
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, center, walks the red carpet Sunday with Acting Afghan Minister of Defense Yasin Zia as they review an honor guard at the presidential palace in Kabul.   (Presidential Palace via AP)

With the scheduled May 1 withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan approaching, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin flew unannounced to Kabul on Sunday for talks, saying the US wants "a transition to something else." In the first visit by a member of the Biden administration, Austin met with President Ashraf Ghani, as well as the top US commander and diplomat, the Washington Post reports. About 2,500 US troops are stationed in Afghanistan, in addition to several hundred more rotated in for brief deployments; more than 2,300 American troops have been killed since 2001. At one point during the 20-year deployment, the Pentagon had more than 100,000 troops there. The Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban last year stating that all US forces will be gone by May 1.

Austin would not say whether the Taliban had kept its part of the deal, per the New York Times. "It's obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country," Austin told reporters as he was leaving later in the day. "We'd really like to see that violence come down, and I think if it does come down it can begin to set the conditions for some really fruitful diplomatic work." Asked whether the withdrawal date could change, he said that's up to President Biden. The president said last week that the deadline would be tough to make, per the Guardian, adding that any extension would not be long. Austin said Sunday that he came to listen, bringing no particular message to Ghani. Austin, who had been in India, wanted the visit kept under wraps, but local reporters broke the story when his meeting with Ghani ended. (The children of US troops sent to Afghanistan are now assuming the mission.)

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