Unrest in Afghanistan: US signals likely delay in troop pullout

New Pentagon chief drops hint during an unannounced visit to Kabul

Afp February 22, 2015
New Pentagon chief drops hint during an unannounced visit to Kabul. PHOTO: REUTERS


US President Barack Obama’s new Pentagon chief on Saturday said the United States was seriously considering slowing the pace of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s comments in Kabul offered the clearest sign yet that Washington was ready to delay the closure of some bases and retain more troops after appeals by Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani and advice from commanders.

To safeguard ‘hard-won’ progress, Obama “is considering a number of options to reinforce US support for President Ghani’s security strategy, including possible changes to the timeline for the drawdown of US troops,” Carter said after talks with Afghan leaders. “That could mean taking another look at the timing and sequencing of base closures to ensure we have the right array of coalition capabilities,” he said at a joint news conference with Ghani.

Apart from troop numbers, the US and its allies would need to make “long-term commitments in resources, equipment and other support” to ensure the success of the Afghan forces, he said.

Carter said as part of the review of the pullout plan, Washington was also was “rethinking the details of the counter-terrorism mission” that currently targets al Qaeda militants with raids by US and Afghan special forces and drone strikes.

He said the single most important factor that had prompted the review of the troop withdrawal timetable was the formation of a unity government last year led by Ghani, which he said had introduced ‘certainty and predictability’. “That’s something we couldn’t have counted on a few months ago.”

On the first day of a two-day visit, Carter held talks with the US commander in Kabul, General John Campbell, as well as General Lloyd Austin, head of US Central Command. His trip coincides with a concerted effort by Ghani to promote peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban, with Pakistan voicing strong support for the initiative.

Ghani declined to confirm whether Taliban leaders were now ready to enter into direct negotiations, but he said conditions were ripe for a potential breakthrough. “The grounds for peace have never been better in the last 36 years,” Ghani said. He said he was ‘hopeful’ and ‘the direction is positive’, but added, “We cannot make premature announcements.”

Asked about the presence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, Carter played down the threat, saying some Taliban insurgents were attempting to ‘rebrand’ themselves.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2015.


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