Senior Trump aide visits Afghanistan amid questions over strategy

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National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster listens as U.S. President Donald Trump makes the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

KABUL: U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser met Afghan officials in Kabul on Sunday, amid questions over the new administration’s plans for the military mission in Afghanistan after American forces unleashed a huge bomb there on militants.
The visit by H.R. McMaster, the first high-level visit by a Trump official, came just days after the U.S. military sparked controversy by dropping a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, one of the largest conventional weapons ever used in combat, during an operation on Thursday against Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan.
While military officials said the strike was based solely on tactical needs, it led to speculation that Trump’s defense advisers are planning to escalate the war against militants in Afghanistan.
The strike was estimated to have killed nearly 100 militants and no civilians, according to Afghan officials, although this has not been independently verified.
McMaster met President Ashraf Ghani and other senior Afghan officials to discuss bilateral ties, security, counter- terrorism, reforms, and development, according to a statement from the palace.
McMaster praised anti-corruption efforts and assured Ghani that the United States would continue to support and cooperate with Afghanistan on a number of issues, according to the palace.
Ghani told McMaster that “terrorism is a serious issue for the security of the world and the region” and if serious steps are not taken it would affect “generations” of people, according to the statement.
Illicit drugs and corruption also top the list of threats to Afghanistan’s security, Ghani told the visiting officials.
The Afghan government refers to both the Taliban and Islamic State as terrorists. Afghan forces have struggled to contain Taliban insurgents since most international troops were withdrawn in 2014, leaving them to fight largely alone.
At the peak in 2011, the United States had more than 100,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Nearly 9,000 U.S. troops remain there to train and advise Afghan forces, provide close air support to soldiers on the ground and form a separate counter-terrorism unit that targets Islamic State, al Qaeda and other militant networks.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has said he needs “several thousand” more troops to help the Afghans take on a resurgent Taliban and battle other insurgents, but no official plan has been announced. – Agencies

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