US defense secretary makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, left, meets Afgan President Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace in Kabul.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Sunday weeks ahead of Washington’s final troop pullback, scheduled under a deal reached with the Taliban last year.

The Pentagon chief held talks with President Ashraf Ghani and other senior officials in Kabul.

According to the Afghan presidential palace, the two sides condemned the increase in violence in the war-battered country and stressed on the need for a durable and just peace process to address the current situation there.

“It’s obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country,” Austin said. “We’d really like to see that violence come down and I think if it does come down, it can begin to set the conditions for, you know, some really fruitful diplomatic work.”

Austin, who was touring Asia this week, arrived in Afghanistan after visiting Japan, South Korea and India.

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