Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Sunday as President Joe Biden’s administration faced a decision to withdraw troops by May 1, as required by a US deal with the Taliban.
As the first member of Biden’s cabinet to travel to the country, Austin met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and General Scott Miller, the US supreme commander in Afghanistan.
“I came to Afghanistan to listen and learn,” Austin said in one Tweet accompanied by a photo of him meeting President Ghani. The visit was “very helpful” and will help inform government decisions about Afghanistan, he said.
Austin flew from New Delhi to Kabul as part of a trip that included visits to Japan and South Korea.
Before arriving in Afghanistan, he told reporters in India that President Biden “has not made a decision or announced when he will decide to remove US troops from Afghanistan.”
Former President Donald Trump’s administration signed an agreement with the Taliban last year calling on all US troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1 so that the insurgents can hold peace talks and commit themselves to their opponents in the Afghan government , Al-Qaeda or other extremists to prevent terrorist attacks from Afghanistan.
NBC News previously reported that Biden is considering keeping US troops in Afghanistan through November instead of withdrawing them by May 1.
The military has presented several options to the White House, including withdrawing troops by or just before May 1, keeping troops in the country indefinitely, or keeping troops in Afghanistan for a period set by Biden that is six Months expansion could include, NBC News reported.
Biden said in an interview with ABC News last week that a troop withdrawal “could happen, but it’s tough”. The president said that if the troop exit date was delayed, it would not be “much longer”.
“I’m in the process of making this decision as to when to leave,” Biden told ABC News.
There are roughly 2,500 US troops left in Afghanistan. US forces have been in Afghanistan since an American-led force overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001 to protect al-Qaeda fighters who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.