KABUL: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has warned of “another tough year” in Afghanistan as he arrived here on an unannounced visit on Monday, hours after his Afghan counterpart resigned over a deadly Taliban attack that triggered anger and left the embattled army in disarray.
Paying his first visit to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, Mattis met President Ashraf Ghani and other senior officials, as well as US military commanders.
“We’re under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission,” he said at a joint press conference with General John Nicholson, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Mattis said: “2017 is going to be another tough year for the valiant Afghan security forces and the international troops who have stood, and will continue to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghanistan against terrorism.”
On Friday, Taliban attacked an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Mazar-i-Sharif, killing more than 100 soldiers.
“It shows why we stand with the people of this country against such heinous acts perpetrated by … this barbaric enemy,” remarked Matti, who is compiling an assessment for President Donald Trump on the conflict.
The visiting secretary added: “As you know, President Trump has directed a review of our policy in Afghanistan as the new administration takes hold in Washington. This dictates an ongoing dialogue with Afghanistan’s leadership and that’s why I came here.”
Defence Minister Abdullah Habibi and army chief Qadam Shah Shaheem stood down on Monday, when the Presidential Palace announced a corps commanders’ reshuffle.
Speaking at the media availability with Mattis, Nicholson said there was “no space” for the Islamic State in Afghanistan. The dropping of the largest non-nuclear bomb on IS hideouts in eastern Afghanistan was a “very clear message” to the group, he said.
Earlier this month, US National Security Advisor HR McMaster visited Afghanistan, where around 8,400 American troops are stationed, in addition to about 5,000 soldiers from NATO allies.
“As if we needed a reminder of the type of enemy we’re up against, the killing of Afghan citizens and soldiers — protectors of the people — just as they were coming out of a mosque, a house of worship, it certainly characterizes this fight for exactly what it is,” Mattis said.
He continued: “These people have no religious foundation. They are not devout anything, and it shows why we stand with the people of this country against such heinous acts perpetrated by this barbaric enemy and what they do.”
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