New US Defense Secretary visits meets with Ghani in Kabul

(Update: add statements)

Kabul, Mar 21 (efe-epa).- US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Sunday made an unannounced visit to Kabul to meet with Afghan officials including president Ashraf Ghani.

Austin’s visit comes as the US mulls whether to fully withdraw its troops by May 1, as stipulated in an agreement signed last year with the Taliban.

Austin met with Ghani at the presidential palace to discuss the state of stalled peace talks with the Taliban, a palace statement said.

“President Ghani and US Secretary of Defense emphasized that reaching a just and lasting peace is the fundamental solution for the current situation of Afghanistan and the US Secretary of Defense reiterated that the United State is supporting Afghanistan in this regard.”

“A just and lasting peace is the sacred goal of the Afghan government, and to reach this goal, a national level consensus is achieved among all segments of the society and we will take full advantage of this opportunity and consensus (for peace),” Ghani said.

The defense secretary’s visit to Afghanistan, which comes at the end of a tour of Asia that has seen him stop in Japan, South Korea and India, is his first under president Joe Biden, and comes amid a US review of the terms of the agreement with the Taliban to see whether the militants are living up to their commitments or not.

According to the US-Taliban agreement, which was signed in February last year, all foreign troops must leave Afghanistan by May 1.

Among other things, the Taliban promised to ensure that Afghan territory would not host foreign militants or serve as a base for attacks against other countries, as well as to reduce levels of violence.

Since agreeing to the deal, the US has reduced its troops in Afghanistan from over 12,000 a year ago to only 2,500.

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