U.S. defence secretary visits Afghanistan to craft policy


U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Afghanistan on Monday as President Donald Trump’s administration looks to construct its strategy for the war-torn country, where resurgent Taliban militants continue to make gains.

Mattis is expected to meet Afghan officials and U.S. troops while in Kabul, but his arrival coincided with an announcement that his Afghan counterpart, Defence Minister Abdullah Habibi, and the Afghan army chief of staff had resigned after more than 140 Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on Friday.

Journalist reports that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared Sunday a day of mourning for those who died in Friday’s attack, ordering flags to be flown at half staff.

The attack came just over a week after the United States dropped a 22,000 pound bomb, known as the “mother of all bombs”, against a series of Islamic State caves and tunnels near the border with Pakistan.

U.S. officials say they were surprised by the level of attention that particular bomb got, since it does little to change the overall situation ground where the larger threat remained the Taliban, not Islamic State.

The Afghan army is preparing for what is expected to be a year of hard fighting against Taliban militants, who now control or contest more than 40 per cent of the country.

Nearly 9,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, in addition to thousands of international coalition forces.

Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, recently told a Congressional hearing that he needed several thousand more international troops in order to break a stalemate in the long war with Taliban insurgents.

U.S. officials say that Nicholson’s request was making its way through the chain of command.

Conversations, however, according to current and former officials, were revolving around 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops.


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