US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has arrived unannounced in Kabul, tasked with making assessment of the stalemated Afghan conflict as the Trump administration weighs up America’s military strategy in the region.
Mattis is expected to meet with Afghan officials and US troops during his visit, the final stop on a week-long tour of six nations which Mattis said was intended to bolster relations with allies and partners.
High profile resigations
Mattis’s arrival coincided with the announcement of two high-profile Afghan resignations. Abdullah Habibi is stepping down as Defence Minister, and Qadam Shah Shahim as Army Chief of Staff, after a deadly Taliban attack last week.
The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani used its Twitter account to announce that the pair would stand down with immediate effect.
Breaking: Pres. Ghani accepted resignation of MoD Minister & Army Chief of Staff.— GMIC Afghanistan (@GMICafghanistan) April 24, 2017
At least 150 were killed when suspected Taliban insurgents penetrated a US-operated military base in the eastern province of Khost last Friday, opening fire on mostly unarmed soldiers, who were eating a meal, and leaving a mosque after Friday prayers.
As many as 10 Taliban fighters, dressed in Afghan army uniforms and driving military vehicles, managed to penetrate the base in order to conduct the attack.
Officials said that it was the deadliest ever attack on an Afghan military base.
The mother of all bombs
The US had previously stepped up its involvement in the Afghan conflict by dropping what it described as the “mother of all bombs” on a fortified tunnel complex used by suspected Islamic State fighters.
A spokesman for the Pentagon said that it was the the first time that the GBU-43 bomb, had ever been used in combat.
On Sunday, some of the first footage from the site of the massive blast were released, showing a scarred mountainside, burnt trees, and some ruined mud-brick structures.
US military estimates suggest that there there are about 600 to 800 Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, mostly in Nangarhar, where the bomb was dropped, but also in the neighbouring province of Kunar.