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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.

Go deeper

1 dead as severe storms pummel the South

A tree that fell on a home carport damaged a vehicle during a storm in Central, Louisiana. No injuries were reported, according to Central Fire Department. Photo: Central Fire Department/Twitter

Strong storms lashed the South early Saturday, spawning at least one tornado and unleashing powerful winds and hail. And forecasters warned more severe weather was expected to hit parts of the region in the coming hours.

Details: Thousands of customers lost power in Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, according to tracking site poweroutage.us. An F3 tornado that hit St Landry Parish, Louisiana, killed one person and wounded seven others.

Scoop: Biden eyes Russia adviser criticized as soft on Kremlin

Photo: Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images

President Biden is considering appointing Matthew Rojansky, head of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, as Russia director on the National Security Council, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Why it matters: Rojansky has been praised for his scholarship on Russia and is frequently cited in U.S. media for his expert commentary. But his work has drawn criticism — including in a 2018 open letter from Ukrainian alumni of Kennan that blasted the think tank he runs as an "unwitting tool of Russia’s political interference."

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak.
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings.
  5. World: Iran tightens COVID restrictions amid fourth wave of pandemic.
  6. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.