Ash Carter, the new U.S. Defense Secretary, made his international debut Saturday by making an unannounced visit to the war ravaged city of Kabul. The new Pentagon chief is expected to see American troops and commanders stationed in the country besides meeting with the afghan leaders including President Ashraf Ghani.
Carter, who was sworn in last week, is on his maiden international visit. The role played by the U.S. troops in the area has undergone a sea change after they ended their combat mission in December 2014. Besides having being pruned down to a smaller team, they will now focus on countering terrorist threats from extremist groups and training Afghan soldiers and police.
The new Defense secretary is expected to talk to the Afghan president and discuss the timeline for the U.S. troop withdrawal while also meeting other Afghan leaders. Besides that, Carter will assess the situation himself and see whether U.S. withdrawal plans are too risky to Afghan security.
Carter has said he would consider a more gradual withdrawal of the remaining 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, who are due to depart Afghanistan by the end of 2016 under current Obama administration plans.
“That’s what I’m here to find out,” Carter told journalists en route to Kabul. “How do things stand now, and what’s the best path forward.”
Though the situation in Afghanistan has improved greatly since the time U.S. led troops invaded the region and toppled the regressive Taliban regime, the country is still grappling with various resilient extremist groups who have been getting increasingly active over the last few months.
Afghans are worried that the situation in their country might deteriorate following the withdrawal of American troops, much in the same fashion as Iraq.
However, defense analysts in Afghanistan trust Carter, a seasoned strategist, who is keeping his cards close to his chest for now. He has refused to reveal his views on the current situation and future prospects for Afghanistan, saying he was using his trip to gather information that will enable him to formulate advice for President Obama.
Consulting is his way of “getting my own thinking together,” he said.
U.S. officials have clearly stated that the new chief has no plans of meeting the Taliban.