US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has arrived in the Afghan capital of Kabul to hold talks with the country’s senior officials in an unannounced visit following his trip to India, Afghan media reported on Sunday, citing sources.
Austin arrived in New Delhi for a three-day visit on Friday, during which he had held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. The US Department of Defense did not mention its chief’s trip to Kabul in the official agenda.
According to the TOLOnews broadcaster, Lloyd’s surprise trip comes amid Washington’s review of the Doha agreement with the Taliban as the promised deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is drawing closer.
On Friday, the Taliban movement urged the US to complete the pullout of its troops from Afghanistan by May 1 as agreed last year. Suhail Shaheen, a member of the movement’s negotiation team, said at recent talks in Moscow that the US forces would violate the February 2020 agreement with the Taliban by staying in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline.
US President Joe Biden, in turn, told ABC News earlier this week that it would be “tough” for all US servicemen to leave Afghanistan by May 1. The US president also said that the final decision on the pullout of troops was yet to be made and Washington was consulting with its allies on the matter.
The NBC News reported last week, citing sources, that the Biden administration was considering extending the US troop deployment in Afghanistan until November.
On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban movement signed a peace deal in Doha, Qatar, stipulating a gradual withdrawal of US troops, as well as the beginning of intra-Afghan negotiations and prisoner exchanges. The talks were delayed multiple times until the Afghan government and the Taliban managed to agree on the prisoner exchange process.
The Afghan government and the Taliban launched peace talks in Doha in September of last year.