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US Defense Secretary Reviews Troop Plans in Afghanistan


Defense Secretary Ashton Carter speaks with U.S. military personnel at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2015.

New U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited southern Afghanistan Sunday to review plans to withdraw U.S. troops from the country within two years.

On his second day in Afghanistan, Carter flew to Kandahar from, Kabul, where he met with Afghan leaders and American military commanders.

Carter is to receive briefings from military commanders on progress in training Afghan security forces.

"We want to make sure that the Afghans themselves are able to preserve the environment which our forces have created over the last few years, one of relative security and stability," he said.

Carter said the United States is "rethinking details" of its mission in Afghanistan, including whether to slow down the withdrawal of U.S. troops, whose mission is changing from combat to training as Afghan troops take on responsibility for fighting the Taliban.

He told reporters the issue is on the agenda when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visits Washington next month.

Drawdown efforts

Carter met with Ghani, discussing both the drawdown and Afghan efforts to fight the Taliban.

Ghani told reporters that prospects for peace with the Taliban are better now than they have been in more than three decades, although he gave few details. He said "the direction is positive" but added he would not make "premature announcements."

Carter also met with soldiers in Kandahar, the regional hub for the U.S. training mission.

"What you are doing right here in Kandahar ... is now becoming the heart of the effort in Afghanistan that will make the success that we have been aiming for all these years, and have sacrificed so much for, stick,” he said.

About 10,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan.

Before taking office, Carter told the U.S. Senate he could reconsider plans to pull all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. But he said that would depend on the security situation.

He also said he would work with U.S. coalition partners to make sure the Islamic State militant group does not expand from the Middle East into Afghanistan.

Some material for this report came from AP and AFP.