New Pentagon Chief in Afghanistan

New Pentagon Chief in AfghanistanNew Pentagon Chief in Afghanistan

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter made his international debut Saturday with an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to see American troops and commanders, meet with Afghan leaders and assess whether US withdrawal plans are too risky to Afghan security.

“We’re looking for success in Afghanistan that is lasting,” Carter told reporters traveling with him on his first trip since being sworn in as Pentagon chief on Tuesday, AP reported.

Carter stressed that the US is seriously considering slowing the pace of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan after talks with Afghan leaders in Kabul.

To safeguard “hard-won” progress, Obama “is considering a number of options to reinforce our support for President Ghani’s security strategy, including possible changes to the timeline for our drawdown of US troops,” Carter said.

“That could mean taking another look at the timing and sequencing of base closures to ensure we have the right array of coalition capabilities,” he said at a joint news conference with Ghani.

Carter is Obama’s fourth Pentagon chief. He served as the Pentagon’s No. 2 official earlier in Obama’s tenure and is seen as a technocrat largely untested on the international stage.

Carter said he chose Afghanistan as his first overseas destination “because this is where we still have 10,000 American troops and they come first in my mind, always.”

US forces ended their main combat mission in December 2014 but have remained in smaller numbers to continue training and advising the Afghans and to conduct counterterrorism strikes against militant groups.

He lauded the progress that Afghanistan has made during the 13 years since US forces invaded and fought the Taliban regime. Obama’s goal, he said, is to “make sure this progress sticks” so that Afghanistan does not again become a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the US.

Carter also met in Kabul with Gen. John Campbell, the top US commander in Afghanistan, and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of Central Command, which has responsibility not only for US operations in Afghanistan but across the Middle East.