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Mattis makes surprise 6-hour visit to Afghanistan during violent week

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis arrives in New Delhi, India, Sept. 5, 2018 for the first-ever U.S.-India “2+2” ministerial dialogue. (Lisa Ferdinando/Department of Defense)
September 07, 2018

Amid a week of brutal violence in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made an unexpected quick visit there on Friday.

Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Kabul on Friday in a surprise visit where they met briefly with senior Afghan officials, along with President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the Associated Press reported Friday.

The visit lasted approximately six hours and included discussions on security, as well as government corruption. Mattis reportedly reiterated the United States’ commitment to remain in Afghanistan to support the efforts until they achieve stability.

The visit comes just days after an ISIS-claimed suicide bombing in Kabul killed 21 people and injured 90. Two U.S. service members were also killed in separate incidents in eastern Afghanistan this week.

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At least 430 people have been killed in 17 terror attacks carried out in Kabul so far in 2018, Radio Free Europe reported. The attacks have persisted, despite heavy fortifications in the city, and the strong campaign of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan.

The attacks have primarily targeted Shiite Muslims, which are a minority in Afghanistan and viewed as apostates by the radical Sunni Muslims.

Friday’s discussion was also said to include possible peace talks with the Taliban, something that the U.S. has been working toward for months. U.S. diplomats met with Taliban officials in July to discuss stipulations of a three-way meeting with Afghan government officials. However, peace talk planning has slowed as the Taliban refused President Ghani’s request for a three-month ceasefire, and continued carrying out violence.

Earlier this week, Mattis said the U.S. is still attempting to set up the peace talks. “Right now, we have more indications that reconciliation is no longer just a shimmer out there, no longer just a mirage,” he told reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “It now has some framework. There’s some open lines of communication.”

This week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad, who is a former envoy to Afghanistan, and will play a leading role in the Afghan reconciliation process.

The steps follow President Trump’s improved Afghanistan strategy announced last year, which expanded the war efforts, but have vowed to see an end to the war with Afghan reconciliation in the near future.

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Mattis’ visit to Kabul this week is the second since the new strategy was announced. During his first visit last year, a local ISIS affiliate carried out a mortar attack on the international airport in Kabul not long after Mattis’ plane arrived.

Though the defense secretary was unharmed, the attack speaks to the ongoing security issue that the administration hopes to help solve.