Top Obama aide travels to Afghanistan

President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, visited Afghanistan over the weekend to meet with new President Ashraf Ghani and discuss the country’s security situation after the official end of the U.S. combat mission there.

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“Ms. Monaco conveyed President Obama’s appreciation for his leadership, expressed support for an Afghan-led reconciliation process, and underscored the value the United States places on an enduring relationship with Afghanistan,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said. “The two reviewed the security situation in Afghanistan and discussed ways the United States can help strengthen the Afghan National Security Forces in the years ahead.”

While a small force of about 13,500 U.S. service members remains in the country, the administration is hopeful the Afghans can take the lead in securing their country. Monaco and Ghani discussed ongoing counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda, as well as U.S. military efforts to train and advise Afghan troops.

Monaco also met with U.S. troops throughout the country, soliciting ideas on “how to preserve the security gains we have made in Afghanistan while maintaining pressure on” al Qaeda, Meehan said.

For the White House, that will be a crucial task. Republican critics have warned that with the U.S. withdrawing, Afghanistan could become at risk for the rise of violent extremist groups like the ones which have taken hold in Iraq and Syria.

In a statement touting the end of combat operations late last year, Obama acknowledged “Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, and the Afghan people and their security forces continue to make tremendous sacrifices in defense of their country.”

“Our personnel will continue to face risks, but this reflects the enduring commitment of the United States to the Afghan people and to a united, secure and sovereign Afghanistan that is never again used as a source of attacks against our nation,” Obama said.