Defense Secretary makes surprise visit to Afghanistan
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter walks out from the Pentagon in Washington December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
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BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN: Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Afghanistan on Friday, where officials said he planned to meet with U.S. troops and military commanders and Afghan officials.

Carter’s visit comes as Afghanistan faces serious security setbacks, with the Taliban staging more attacks and inflicting more casualties on Afghan forces in the last year compared to previously.

In a report to the U.S. Congress released this week, the Pentagon painted a grim picture of the security situation in Afghanistan, finding that from the beginning of the year to mid-November, there were 27 percent more high-profile attacks in the capital city of Kabul compared with the same period last year.

Afghan national defense and security forces also had 27 percent more casualties from the start of 2015 up to mid-November compared with the same period last year, the Pentagon report found.

Recent setbacks include the brief fall of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban, a months-long struggle in Helmand province and an insurgent raid on the airport in the southern city of Kandahar last week that killed 50 civilians, police and security personnel.

President Barack Obama reversed his policy on Afghanistan in mid-October, saying he would prolong the U.S. military engagement by maintaining a force of 9,800 through most of 2016.

The U.S. troops have dual missions of training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counter-terrorism operations.

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