Obama’s recently confirmed Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, a former Goldman Sachs adviser and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, says the U.S. is “rethinking” its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Carter rendezvoused with U.S. commanders, military and civilian leaders in Kabul on Saturday. The meeting was unannounced.
“We’re looking for success in Afghanistan that is lasting,” he said ahead of a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who says he wants the troop withdrawal slowed.
“How to do that, what the best way to do that is, is precisely what I’m here to assess,” Carter added.
“Our priority now is to make sure this progress sticks. That is why President Obama is considering a number of options to reinforce our support for President Ghani’s security strategy, including possible changes to the time line for our drawdown of U.S. troops,” Obama’s defense secretary said Saturday.
“That could mean taking another look at the timing and sequencing of base closures to ensure we have the right array of coalition capabilities to support our Afghan partners,” Carter said.
The United States announced in December it would end its mission in Afghanistan and withdraw 10,000 remaining troops by the end of 2016.
A previous agreement would have withdrawn the remaining troops by December of last year. Ghani, however, signed a security agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay longer.
“Deadlines concentrate the mind. But deadlines should not be dogmas,” Ghani said during an interview with 60 Minutes in January.
“If both parties or, in this case, multiple partners, have done their best to achieve the objectives and progress is very real, then there should be willingness to re-examine a deadline,” he said.
The new agreement changed the rules of engagement and expanded the scope of military operations, including air strikes on Taliban positions by aircraft from carriers in the Arabian Sea.
In September, the outgoing Afghan president Hamid Karzai said the U.S. is not interested in peace and invaded his country “because of its own interests.”
Karzai said he was troubled by the number of civilian casualties during the occupation. He criticized the U.S. for not targeting Taliban sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan.
“Afghans died in a war that’s not ours,” he said during an interview last March.
A report issued in December said civilian casualties were expected to exceed 10,000 by the end of the year. 2014 was the deadliest year for civilians since 2009, according to the United Nation’s Mission’s for Afghanistan.
Other observers, however, say the number of dead is far higher. More than a decade ago, The Guardian reported as many as 20,000 Afghans lost their lives as an indirect consequence of the invasion.
In addition, the invasion forced thousands of Afghans to flee from their homes, creating a massive humanitarian crisis.