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On his first visit to Afghanistan, the US defense chief arrives in Kabul.

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On his first visit to Afghanistan, the US defense chief arrives in Kabul.
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On his first visit to Afghanistan, the US defense chief arrives in Kabul.

On his first visit to Afghanistan, the US defense chief arrives in Kabul.

 

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Kabul for his first trip to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief on Sunday, amid a flurry of concerns about how long American troops will be stationed there.

Austin’s arrival in Kabul was announced by state-owned Radio and Television Afghanistan and famous TOLO Television. President Ashraf Ghani and other senior Afghan government officials were among those he met with.

Austin told the Washington Post that senior US officials want to see “a responsible end to this dispute” and “a transition to something else,” according to the Washington Post, which was among the small group of US media accompanying him.

“There will always be questions about things one way or the other,” Austin said, “but I believe there is a lot of attention concentrated on doing what is possible to bring about a responsible end to the war and a negotiated settlement.”

In an interview with ABC News last week, President Joe Biden reported that meeting the May 1 deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would be “tough.” He did say, however, that if the deadline, which is set in an arrangement between former President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban, is extended, it would not be by a “significant period of time.”

The Taliban retaliated on Friday, threatening the United States with drastic consequences if it fails to meet the deadline. Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban negotiator, told reporters that keeping US troops in Afghanistan past May 1 would be a “kind of breach of the agreement.” That would not be a violation from our end…. Their transgression will result in a retaliation.”

According to a statement released by the presidential palace, Austin met with Ghani, and both sides condemned the rise in violence in Afghanistan. The May 1 deadline was not stated. Washington has been rising pressure on both sides in the protracted conflict to find a fast path to a peace agreement, following the Trump administration’s signing of a deal with the Taliban last year.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this month in a strongly worded letter to Ghani that peace in Afghanistan is urgent and that all options remain on the table. He also cautioned that if US and NATO troops leave, the Taliban would likely capture territory quickly. The US invests $4 billion a year to keep Afghanistan’s National Security Forces active.

At a press conference in Moscow the day after meeting with senior Afghan government negotiators and international observers to try to jumpstart a stalled peace process to end Afghanistan’s decades-long war, the Taliban cautioned America against defying the May 1 deadline.

Both the Taliban and the Afghan government have received an eight-page peace plan from Washington, which both parties are evaluating. It proposes a transitional “peace administration” to guide Afghanistan toward constitutional reform and elections.

Ghani’s opposition to an interim government has led to allegations that he is clinging to power. Elections alone, he believes, would be necessary to bring about a change of government.

Both the United States and Kabul have called for an end to the conflict and a cease-fire. A cease-fire will be part of the peace talks, according to the Taliban. Since signing the deal, the rebel movement has not attacked US or NATO troops.

However, US military commanders and NATO leaders have stated that the Taliban have refused to fulfill their part of the peace deal, which requires a reduction in violence and a separation from al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.

Last month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance “will only leave when the time is right” and conditions are met.

“The key problem is that the Taliban must minimize aggression, negotiate in good faith, and avoid supporting foreign terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda,” he said.

Austin hasn’t said anything about the impasse on the record. Austin told reporters after a virtual meeting of NATO defense ministers that “our involvement in Afghanistan is conditional, and the Taliban must fulfill their commitments.”

Austin’s visit to Afghanistan is his first to a U.S. conflict in the Middle East since taking the Pentagon job. During his time as an Army general, however, he spent a lot of time in the field. Austin, a former four-star general, commanded the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. He also served as the commander of US Central Command, which manages the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from 2013 to 2016.

Austin’s first overseas trip as secretary concludes with a stop in Afghanistan. He traveled to Japan and South Korea after a stop in Hawaii, where he and Secretary of State Blinken met with their security and foreign ministers.

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