Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Friday, saying the U.S. remains committed to supporting the Afghan government against a resilient insurgency.
“The United States’ presence … demonstrates to the world that America is and will remain committed to a sovereign and secure Afghanistan,” the Pentagon chief said at a news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
It was Carter’s last visit to Afghanistan before he is expected to be replaced by retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Defense secretary.
Carter said President Obama’s decision this year to expand the mandate of the approximately 10,000 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan had helped Afghan forces hold off insurgents in several areas.
The U.S. troops are deployed to advise and train Afghan soldiers and police but have been called into combat duty multiple times over the last two years as Taliban insurgents and their allies make gains.
The U.S. military estimates that the Afghan government controls slightly less than two-thirds of the population, insurgents hold 10% and the remainder is contested.
Carter said the U.S. and international allies remained committed to funding the Afghan security forces through 2020.
Trump has said little about his plans for Afghanistan but has expressed opposition to what he termed U.S. nation-building projects.
Carter and Gen. John Nicholson, commander of international forces in Afghanistan, appeared to suggest that the U.S. should sustain its involvement in a country where it has invested hundreds of billions of dollars and lost more than 2,200 service members since 2001.
Current plans call for about 8,400 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2017.
Ghani praised the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.
“The Afghan people recognize its enemies and friends,” Ghani said. “The U.S. is our friend, and we appreciate its sacrifices.”
Faizy is a special correspondent.