The U.S. is slowing down its withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite long-held promises that the military would be out of the country by 2016, new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on Saturday.
Carter told reporters in Kabul that the Obama administration is "rethinking" its counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan and that the U.S. military wants to ensure that "progress sticks" in the country after its withdrawal. In his first trip to Afghanistan since being sworn in as Pentagon chief, Carter said a new plan could change the original schedule, which would have seen the U.S. halving its troops this year and establishing a "normal" embassy presence by 2016.
[Carter's] remarks set the stage for talks next month when the Afghan president is expected in Washington.
"Our priority now is to make sure this progress sticks," Carter said at a joint conference with President Ashraf Ghani, hours after landing in Kabul.
.... Carter, who this week became Obama's fourth defense secretary, is a former Pentagon No. 2 with deep roots in U.S. policy on Afghanistan. He said Saturday marked his tenth official visit to the country, even though it was his first at the helm of the Department of Defense.
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The news follows a series of developments in the military's involvement in Afghanistan. In January, it was revealed that military officials had classified information about how they were spending $65 billion appropriated since 2002 to train Afghan forces.
And the Associated Press writes:
On Feb. 11, the White House said Ghani had requested "some flexibility in the troop drawdown timeline" and that the administration was "actively considering" that. A day later, Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that he had presented U.S. leaders with several options that would allow him to better continue training and advising Afghan forces, particularly through this summer's peak fighting season.
Recent reports have highlighted the continued toll of war on Afghan civilians, who face record casualties and high levels of displacement, despite promises from the White House that the "longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion." According to the United Nations, nearly 3,700 civilians were killed in 2014, a 22 percent increase from the previous year.
"We are discussing and rethinking the details of the counter-terrorism mission and how the environment has changed here with respect to terrorism, since we first laid out our plans," Carter said on Saturday.