KABUL: The United States would “remain committed” to Afghanistan, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday, amid questions about what President-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policy would mean for the country.
Earlier, Carter arrived in the Afghan capital on an unannounced visit and met US troops and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
“America is, and will remain, committed to a sovereign and secure Afghanistan,” he told a news conference with Ghani.
Carter visits Kabul, meets president
Trump has given few details of his foreign policy plans, with surprisingly few specifics on Afghanistan, where nearly 10,000 US troops remain more than 15 years after the Taliban were toppled by US-backed forces.
Afghanistan was barely mentioned during a bitterly fought election campaign, which largely focused on domestic issues, between Republican Trump and his Democratic rival, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Trump, however has said the United States should stop carrying out “nation building”.
Ghani and Trump spoke by telephone last week and the Trump transition team said in a statement they discussed the “terrorism threats facing both countries”.
Speaking with reporters at Bagram airbase north of Kabul later on Friday, General John Nicholson, the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, said it was important for the United States to remain committed in Afghanistan.
“Our policy of having an enduring counterterrorism effort alongside of our Afghan partners is, in my view, very sound and something we need to continue,” Nicholson said.
Carter said the Trump transition team had not asked to speak to Nicholson, but he would be made available if requested.
One of the most important questions facing Trump on Afghanistan, former officials and experts say, is how many US troops will stay on there.
Acknowledging that Afghan security remained precarious and Taliban had gained ground in some places, President Barack Obama shelved plans to cut the US presence almost in half by year’s end, opting instead to keep 8,400 troops there through to the end of his presidency in January.
Ghani thanked Carter for the US military contribution and its sacrifices in the conflict.
James Dobbins, a former US special envoy for Afghanistan, said Afghanistan would not figure highly for Trump, given the fight against the militant Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
This, Dobbins said, was likely to mean that the number of US troops in Afghanistan would remain unchanged, at least in the short term.
Trump will inherit a challenging security situation in Afghanistan. A number of provincial capitals have been under pressure from the Taliban while Afghan forces have been suffering high casualty rates, with more than 5,500 killed in the first eight months of this year.