Mar 21, 2021 - World

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Afghanistan on Sunday for a previously unannounced visit, where he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, Politico reports.

Why it matters: Austin's visit comes as the U.S. continues to debate whether to abide by an agreement, brokered by the Trump administration, to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1.

  • During his visit to New Delhi on Saturday, Austin told reporters that as far as he knew Biden "has not made a decision or made any announcements on when he'll decide to remove" U.S. troops from Afghanistan, according to CNN.

What they're saying: Austin expressed concerns about the country's security situation.

  • “It’s obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country, we’d really like to see that violence come down,” Austin said, per Politico.
  • “If it does come down, it can begin to set the conditions for some really fruitful diplomatic work.”
  • “There is always going to be concerns about things one way or the other, but I think there is a lot of energy focused on doing what’s necessary to bring about a responsible end, a negotiated settlement to the war."

The big picture: Top U.S. generals have warned that pulling out of the country before a diplomatic deal is reached with the Taliban could spell trouble for President Ghani's hold on power, according to Politico.

  • While Biden has admitted that completing a full withdrawal by May 1 will be "tough," on Friday the Taliban warned that if the U.S. does not withdraw by that date there will be a "reaction," The Washington Post reports.
  • Turkey on Friday announced that it will be hosting an April peace summit requested by the Biden administration "to jump-start negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban," per The Washington Post.

What's more: Two powerful Senate chairmen have questioned plans to withdraw all U.S. troops by May 1, potentially providing Biden with cover should he change is his mind, Axios previously reported.

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