The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Kabul on Sunday morning, becoming the first member of President Biden’s cabinet to set foot in the country, which is home to America’s longest war, according to the New York Times.
The trip comes at a pivotal time: The U.S. is tentatively set to withdraw its forces from the country on May 1. Mr. Biden said in an interview last week that meeting the deadline would be “tough.” He has not announced any definite plans about the pullout.
Mr. Austin’s arrival in Kabul came on Nowruz, the Persian new year — a date on which the Islamic State in Afghanistan had pledged to carry out attacks. So the trip was intended to remain confidential until two hours after he left, but local reporters broke news of his visit after he met with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani.
The stakes: A U.S. withdrawal could increase the risk of a takeover of the country’s key cities by the Taliban. Asked about the concerns Afghans might have over a pullout, Mr. Austin said: “We’ve done a lot to work with the Afghan security forces. And I don’t want to speculate about what could happen or what could not happen going forward.”
Roughly 3,500 U.S. troops are now stationed in Afghanistan. American troops have had a continuous presence in the country since 2001.