By Orooj Hakimi
KABUL (Reuters) – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during an unannounced visit to Kabul on Sunday, as Washington reviewed the peace progress there and plans to withdraw.
Austin said on Twitter that he had come to “listen and learn”, on his first trip to Afghanistan since his appointment.
“This visit has been very helpful for me and it will inform me of my participation in the review we are doing here with (US President Joe Biden),” he added.
The meeting comes at a pivotal moment for the Afghan peace process before the May 1 withdrawal deadline was unanimously agreed upon by the Taliban rebels and the administration of US President Donald Trump.
Biden told ABC News on Wednesday that the deadline will be difficult to meet and that his administrator is consulting with allies and is in the process of making a decision.
The US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has also been on business in the region in recent weeks with proposals including an interim government of Afghanistan and a summit in Turkey to kick off. peace process.
Negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government in the Qatar capital, Doha, have struggled to gain momentum and increased violence.
On Friday, the Taliban said it wanted to see progress speed up but warned Washington not to keep its troops in Afghanistan beyond the agreed withdrawal date.
The Afghan presidential palace on Sunday said Austin and Ghani had discussed the peace process and fear of increased violence.
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