Kerry makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

John Kerry arrived in Kabul on Monday to meet with President Hamid Karzai on an unannounced visit, his first to Afghanistan as secretary of state.

Kerry and Karzai will speak Monday afternoon at the presidential palace, according to reports. The two are expected to discuss a number of issues, including possible talks between the Afghan government and Islamist groups, the country’s upcoming elections and security cooperation.

Kerry’s visit comes amid growing tensions between Kabul and Washington, as the United States prepares to hand off security responsibilities to local Afghan forces.

Earlier this month, during new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s visit to Afghanistan, Karzai had charged that the United States and the Taliban were holding secret negotiations and suggested both sides were benefiting from the violence and instability.

Hagel quickly denied those allegations and sought to reassure Karzai that the United States would not hold back-channel talks with the Taliban.

Karzai’s statement was only the latest flare up as President Obama works to wind down the war in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, the Afghan president called on U.S. and NATO commanders to hand over control of U.S.-backed militias to Kabul. And last month, reports said Karzai had ordered that U.S. special forces stop operations in a critical province, alleging that they had abducted and tortured civilians. 

Those moves will complicate U.S.-Afghan ties as Washington readies to withdraw all combat troops from the country by the end of 2014. Local forces will begin taking control of security operations, despite concerns from some lawmakers that they will be undermanned.

But despite difficulties, both sides are continuing talks on outstanding issues. Last weekend, officials said the United States and Afghanistan had finalized a deal allowing U.S. forces to hand over control of Bagram prison to Afghan control.

Kerry arrived in Afghanistan after a trip to Iraq, where he pressured that country’s leaders to do more to halt Iran’s supply of military aid to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

The White House has called on Baghdad to stop Iranian flights, which they believe carry weapons and fighters to Syria, over Iraqi airspace. Iran and Iraq insist, however, that those flights are only carrying humanitarian aid.

“Anything that supports President Assad is problematic,” Kerry said at a press conference, according to reports. He said he had a “very spirited discussion” with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to address U.S. concerns. 

Before his stop in Baghdad, Kerry accompanied President Obama on a three-day tour of Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, Obama’s first overseas trip of his second term.