Carter makes surprise visit to Afghanistan
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Friday made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to consult with military commanders and deliver a pre-holiday pep talk to US troops.
It is Carter’s last planned trip to Afghanistan before handing off his Pentagon responsibilities to his designated successor, retired Marine Gen James Mattis. Carter is scheduled to meet later in the day with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The US has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to train and advice Afghan security forces combating a resilient Taliban insurgency. US special operations forces are hunting down al-Qaida and Islamic State militants.
Carter’s visit comes amid concerns that despite improvements in Afghan government defenses, Taliban forces are gaining leverage and are continuing to use neighbouring Pakistan as a sanctuary.
By US estimates, the Afghan government controls slightly less than two-thirds of the country’s population. The Taliban holds sway over about 10 per cent, and the remainder of the population is “contested.”
US commanders have praised Afghan soldiers for taking the lead in battles against the less-well equipped Taliban.