Speed Reads

Afghan conflict

Austin appears to take softer approach than Blinken in surprise visit to Afghanistan

In what The Associated Press described as a "sharply worded" letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for urgency in the government's peacemaking process with the Taliban ahead of a May 1 American troop withdrawal deadline that the Biden administration may wind up extending. On Sunday, however, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who made an unannounced visit to Kabul on his way back from India, appeared to strike a different tone while meeting with Ghani.

"I didn't ... convey a message to [Ghani]," Austin, who is the first Biden Cabinet member to visit Afghanistan, told reporters after the meeting. "Again, I really wanted to listen to him and to understand what his concerns were, see the landscape through his eyes. That's what we did. I really had a chance to hear from him. And it was very helpful to me."

Austin didn't provide any updates on whether the U.S. will adhere to the May 1 deadline, which was set in an agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban, saying only that the decision will be up to President Biden.

Afghanistan's TOLO Television reported that Ghani and Austin expressed a shared concern over the increase in violence in Afghanistan and agreed a lasting peace in the country remains the goal for both the American and Afghan governments.