Defense secretary travels to Afghanistan as troop withdrawal deadline looms


Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani (R) meets U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in Kabul, Afghanistan March 21, 2021.

Presidential Palace/Handout by way of REUTERS

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Afghanistan on Sunday to meet with the nation’s chief, as Washington considers a possible finish to America’s longest battle.

The journey, which makes Austin the primary Biden Cabinet-level official to go to the war-torn nation, comes 40 days forward of a U.S. troop withdrawal deadline.

In February 2020, the United States brokered a deal with the Taliban that might usher in a everlasting cease-fire and diminished additional the U.S. navy’s footprint from roughly 13,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July final 12 months.

By May 2021, all international forces would depart Afghanistan, in accordance to the deal. There are about 2,500 U.S. troops at present within the nation.

The Biden administration has but to announce its subsequent steps ahead in Afghanistan.

The collective wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have value U.S. taxpayers greater than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, in accordance to a Defense Department report.

The present U.S. navy operations, designated Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq, and Operation Noble Eagle for homeland safety missions within the U.S. and Canada, have accounted for $265.7 billion of that sum.

Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, which started in October 2001 and formally led to December 2014, value taxpayers $578.7 billion.

Of the three present operations, Freedom’s Sentinel takes the lion’s share of prices at $197.three billion, adopted by Inherent Resolve at $40.5 billion and Noble Eagle at $27.9 billion.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin walks throughout his go to in Kabul, Afghanistan March 21, 2021.

Presidential Palace/Handout by way of REUTERS

According to the report, the cash goes towards coaching, tools, upkeep as nicely as meals, clothes, medical companies and pay for troops.

Last month, the world’s strongest navy alliance met to talk about an array of challenges dealing with the 30-member group. High on the agenda was the trail ahead in Afghanistan. NATO joined the worldwide safety effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and at present has greater than 7,000 troops within the nation.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated the alliance will proceed to assess the scenario on the bottom in Afghanistan.

“Our goal is to guarantee that we’ve a long-lasting political settlement that may make it potential for us to go away in a manner that does not undermine our essential objective and that’s to forestall Afghanistan from turning into as soon as once more a protected haven [for terrorists],” Stoltenberg stated.

“The majority of the troops are from European allies and accomplice nations. We will do what is important to guarantee that our troops are safe,” he stated when requested if the alliance was ready for violence if the settlement with the Taliban is damaged.

Austin instructed reporters on the heels of the NATO assembly that the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan could be contingent on a discount of violence within the nation.

“The violence should lower, now,” Austin said, in his first press briefing with reporters. “I instructed our allies that it doesn’t matter what the result of our evaluate, the United States won’t undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan,” he stated, referring to the digital NATO conferences.

“There will likely be no surprises. We will seek the advice of one another, seek the advice of collectively and resolve collectively and act collectively,” Austin stated of the NATO-led mission.

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