**Kabul: ** US Defence Secretary James Mattis paid a surprise visit to Kabul on Wednesday and pledged his country won’t abandon Afghanistan. Hours after he touched down, the Taliban launched a rocket attack on the Kabul airport.
Mattis was speaking at a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
“We will not abandon Afghanistan to a merciless enemy,” he said, referring to the persistent threat posed by the Taliban insurgency.
“More US troops alongside additional allied contributions are making it clear we are not quitting this fight,” said Mattis. “Through our partnership, we will suffocate any hope to Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Haqqani and Taliban have for winning by killing.”
The visit by the US official and the NATO chief came after Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan, promising a stepped-up military campaign against the Taliban.
Mattis, who was earlier in India, and Stoltenberg arrived in Kabul early in the morning. Several rockets were fired near the Kabul airport hours after they landed. Officials said one civilian was killed and four others were wounded in the attack claimed by the Taliban.
The attack started shortly after 11 a.m. Between 30 and 40 explosions were heard in the vicinity over a three hour period, Tolo News reported.
At the press conference, Ghani called on India, Russia and other countries in the region to come together to help mobilize in the fight against terrorism.
He also said his country wanted an Afghan-owned peace process and called on insurgents to join the peace process.
Mattis told Ghani that the US would be better equipped to support the Afghan government in its fight against the “terrorists” under the new plan.
On the Taliban, Mattis said: “The only path to peace and political legitimacy for them is through a negotiated settlement.”
Stoltenberg expressed his support to the war against the Taliban despite the human and financial costs it involved.
Afghanistan could become a safe haven for terrorists if international troops withdrew from the country, he warned. “NATO is committed to funding the Afghan security forces until at least 2020.”
The official also urged the countries of the region to play a “constructive role and help stabilize Afghanistan” and destroy the sanctuaries of extremist groups.
Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of harbouring the Taliban and the Haqqani network in its territory, an accusation Islamabad denies.
Washington has adopted a tougher stance towards Pakistan and demanded that it demonstrate its commitment to the fight against the Taliban.
But only a day earlier, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif declared in New York that the US was to blame for the mess in Afghanistan.