AFGHANISTAN (March 22, 2021)—Lloyd Austin, the US secretary of defense, made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Sunday, meeting President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.
The Biden administration is conducting a review of the agreement with the Taliban and, even in the midst of COVID-19, the secretary wanted to hear firsthand from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani; Army General Austin S. Miller, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan; and Ambassador Ross Wilson, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
“I am here to listen and learn,” Austin said during a short meeting with reporters traveling with him. “It will inform my participation in the review we are undergoing here with the president. It’s very helpful,” said Army General Austin.
Austin said he continues to be grateful for the sacrifices made by service members, diplomats, civilian employees and contractors serving in the country.
Austin wouldn’t comment on whether the Taliban has met the necessary conditions under the Doha agreement for a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. “What I will say is that it is obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country. We’d really like to see that violence come down. If it does come down it can begin to set the condition for some really fruitful diplomatic work.”
Austin did not bring or convey a message to Ghani. “I really wanted to listen to him and to understand what his concerns were and see the landscape through his eyes. That’s what we did. I really had a chance to hear from him and it was very helpful to me.”
The objective is a responsible end to the conflict. American officials have been saying for years that there are no military solutions to the problems that plague Afghanistan. “I heard from all of our partners here today that everyone is really desirous of a responsible end and transition to something else.”
Austin said he has complete faith in Miller. He said he is confident that Miller can accomplish his mission with the resources he has, “and I have great confidence in his ability to protect our troops. It is the right of every commander to defend his troops. There is no question that Gen. Miller has the attributes and resources on hand to accomplish that.”