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The Defense secretary travelled to Afghanistan as the troop withdrawal deadline looms

The Defense Secretary visited Afghanistan

March 23, 2021: On Sunday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the nation’s leader, as Washington considers an end to America’s longest war.

The trip making Austin the first Biden Cabinet-level official to visit the war-torn country came 40 days ahead of a U.S. troop withdrawal deadline.

In February 2020, the U.S brokered a deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and further reduced the U.S. military’s footprint from 13,000 troops to 8,600 by July the last year.

By May 2021, all foreign forces would leave Afghanistan, according to the deal. There are about 2,500 U.S. troops currently in the country.

According to a Defense Department report, the collective wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers above $1.57 trillion since September 11, 2001.

The present U.S. military operations designated Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, and Operation Noble Eagle for homeland security missions in the U.S. and Canada accounts for $265.7 billion of that sum.

Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001 and formally ended in December 2014, cost taxpayers $578.7 billion.

Of the three current operations, Freedom’s Sentinel takes the lion’s share of costs at $197.3 billion, followed by Inherent Resolve at $40.5 billion and Noble Eagle at $27.9 billion.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin walks during his visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 21, 2021.

According to the report, the money goes toward training, food, clothing, medical services, and pay for troops and other maintenance.

Last month, the world’s most powerful military alliance had a discussion about the challenges that face the 30-member group. High on the agenda was the path forward in Afghanistan. NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and has more than 7,000 troops.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would continue to assess the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.

“We aim to make sure that we have a lasting political agreement that can make it possible for us to leave in a way that doesn’t undermine our main goal and that is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming once again a haven [for terrorists],” Stoltenberg said.

Austin told reporters in a NATO meeting that the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan would be contingent on reducing the country’s violence.

“The violence must decrease, now,” Austin said in his first press briefing with reporters. “I told our allies that no matter what the outcome of our review, the United States will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan,” he said, referring to the virtual NATO meetings.

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