US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to consult with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and US military commanders regarding the future of America’s 15-year-long military campaign there.
The outgoing Pentagon chief will also deliver a speech to US troops at Bagram Airfield, the largest US military base in Afghanistan located about 60 kilometers north of the capital Kabul.
This will be Carter’s last official trip as Defense Secretary to Afghanistan as he prepares to hand off his military responsibilities to his designated successor, retired Marine General James Mattis.
Carter’s visit comes amid questions about what President-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policy will be in the country as it faces a renewed Taliban-led insurgency.
Trump has not said how he will approach the Afghanistan situation, though he denounced US nation-building projects during his presidential campaign.
Despite this, his first cabinet appointments suggest that he may receive advice that favors a growing military presence in the country with additional troops and resources.
Mattis oversaw the war in Afghanistan as part of his responsibilities while commander of US Central Command from 2010 to 2013.
And Trump’s pick for national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was the director of intelligence at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan.
There are now about 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, as well as some 6,000 NATO service members, to “train and advise” Afghan security forces fighting Taliban.
Outgoing US President Barack Obama announced plans in October last year to keep 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan through 2016 and 5,500 in 2017, reneging on his promise to end the war there and bring home most American forces before he leaves office.
Over the past several months, Taliban militants have intensified their pressure with numerous offensives on other key Afghan provinces, including Kunduz and Takhar.