Acting Pentagon chief makes unannounced trip to Afghanistan amid drawdown
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday in the second trip by a top U.S. official to the country in a week.
Miller’s trip, which was not announced beforehand for security reasons, comes as the U.S. military is fulfilling President Trump’s order to draw down to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by mid-January.
“So I’m the guy who’s drawing it down to 2,500 on the president’s behalf,” Miller told a group of troops during lunch, according to Military.com, which was traveling with him. “I firmly believe that’s the right thing to do.”
During the trip, Miller met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, as well as the top U.S. general in Afghanistan.
Miller and Ghani “discussed the historic opportunity for peace, the continued U.S. support for the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces, and the importance of achieving a reduction in violence to advance the peace process,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The secretary’s meeting with Gen. Scott Miller was meant to “gain his assessment of the overall security situation to include the current counterterrorism and train, advise and assist missions, the level of Taliban violence and the ongoing drawdown of U.S. forces,” the Pentagon said in a separate statement.
The secretary also met with troops to “thank them and acknowledge their sacrifice of being away from their Families during a difficult holiday season,” the Pentagon said.
Last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also met with Ghani and Scott Miller during a trip to Afghanistan.
Milley’s stop in Afghanistan came after he met with Taliban negotiators in Qatar in what was revealed to be his second meeting with the United States’ 19-year foes. In his meetings, Milley also stressed the need to reduce violence in Afghanistan.
Trump has continued to push forward with drawing down in Afghanistan even as U.S. and military officials have said the Taliban has yet to meet commitments it agreed to in February.
The U.S.-Taliban deal calls for a full U.S. withdrawal by this coming May if the Taliban upholds counterterrorism commitments such as denying safe haven to al Qaeda.
In addition to not yet breaking with al Qaeda, the Taliban has stepped up attacks against Afghan forces, drawing condemnation from U.S. officials.
President-elect Joe Biden has said he would withdraw most troops from Afghanistan, but leave a small contingent of special forces there to conduct counterterrorism missions.