Mattis arrives in Afghanistan on surprise visit

Posted at 10:18 PM, Sep 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-07 15:40:18-04

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis made an unexpected trip to Afghanistan Friday, his visit coming as the US tries to make headway in the country after 17 years of war.

Mattis met with Army Gen. Scott Miller, the new Commander of Resolute Support and US Forces-Afghanistan, who assumed the role last week.

The US Defense Secretary also met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. That meeting was attended by officials from both countries, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Miller, along with the Afghan minister of defense and national security adviser.

At the outset of the meeting, Ghani thanked the American officials for the sacrifice of US service members and their families and praised the Trump administration’s South Asia strategy, particularly its decision to boost air support and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance flights in Afghanistan.

Mattis touched down in the country amid a bloody start to September.

One US service member was killed and another was wounded Monday in “an apparent insider attack” — one carried out by a member of the Afghan security forces — in eastern Afghanistan, according to a statement from the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, Resolute Support. Ghani said that preventing these “green-on-blue attacks” was a “top national priority.”

On Wednesday, 20 people — including two journalists — were killed in Kabul in twin bomb attacks on a wrestling club. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack. A recent UN report said the number of Afghan civilians killed in the first six months of this year has reached a record high.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named veteran diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad as a newly-named State Department special envoy to Afghanistan.

Khalilzad, Pompeo said, would be “full time focused on developing the opportunities to get the Afghans and the Taliban to come to a reconciliation.”

The topic of reconciliation was a prominent one as both secretaries traveled the region this week.

During a dialogue in New Delhi on Thursday, Pompeo, Mattis, and their Indian counterparts, “reaffirmed their shared commitment to a united, sovereign, democratic, inclusive, stable, prosperous, and peaceful Afghanistan,” according to a joint statement.

On Wednesday, Pompeo told reporters he discussed with Pakistani officials “the work that we all know that we need to do to try and develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan, which benefits certainly Afghanistan but also the United States and Pakistan.” The US has accused Pakistan of granting a safe haven to militants waging war in neighboring Afghanistan — a charge Pakistan denies.

In July, a senior State Department official met for discussions with Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar.