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US Defense Secretary meets Afghan president

UNITED States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in an surprise visit to Kabul on Sunday, as US reviews the peace process there and its intended troop withdrawal.

Austin said he had come to “listen and learn,” on his first trip to Afghanistan since his appointment.

“This visit been very helpful for me, and it will inform my participation in the review we are undergoing here with President (Joe) Biden,” he added. 

The meeting comes at a crucial time for the Afghan peace process ahead of a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops agreed by the insurgent Taliban and the administration of previous US President Donald Trump.

Biden said that the dead line would be hard to meet and that his administration was consulting with allies and in the process of a decision.

The United States special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has also been travelling in the region in recent weeks with proposals including an interim Afghan government and a summit in Turkey to jumpstart the peace process.