(Photo by Massoud Hossaini/EPA)
US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unscheduled stop in Kabul on his way to Japan on Saturday — and the Afghan capital promptly came under a rocket attack.Three rockets that were fired from unknown location landed in central Kabul on Saturday evening. One rocket landed inside a high school. Police said there were no casualties.Kerry dropped in on Afghanistan to show support for a government he helped create less than two years ago, one that has continued to falter in the face of a weak economy, a seemingly irrepressible Taliban insurgency, and ongoing corruption. The UN issued a damning statement last month that said "for 2016, survival will be an achievement" for the current Afghan government.
For the last 18 months, progress by Kabul's government has been stymied by infighting between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the country's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah. During his visit, Kerry urged the leaders to bury their "factional divisions" in the country's interest. Ghani and Abdullah are sharing power under a deal that Kerry helped broker. But because the roles of each official were never clearly defined, Ghani and Abdullah were left in a power struggle following acrimonious runoff elections, which Abdullah alleged were rigged in Ghani's favor.The political tensions have been exacerbated by the ongoing and possibly escalating threat posed by the Taliban, and violence continues to rattle Afghanistan on a regular basis. Kerry reiterated his offer to moderate peace talks with the Taliban, and implored Afghanistan's fragmented government to unite and work together to achieve peace."Democracy requires credible institutions," Kerry said. "Even more than that, it requires a willingness of people.. from different political and ethnic and geographic factions to be able to come together and work for a common good."
NATO officials estimate that Afghanistan's government has control over 70 percent of the country, at most. The US has slowly backed away from its counterinsurgency campaign, and provinces in the poppy-producing Helmand province, a longtime Taliban stronghold, have continued to fall to the militant group. The US has about 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, a level that is expected to fall to 5,500 by the end of the year.
According to a report by the Brookings Institute, "fighting season" last year between the Taliban and Afghan security forces was the bloodiest on record since the US-led invasion in 2001. Kerry and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani acknowledged last year's violence, which resulted in over 11,000 civilian casualties, in a joint press conference on Saturday."The US remains fully committed to the mission to train, advice and to assist the Afghan security forces as they combat the insurgency to protect their people," Kerry said.Watch the VICE News documentary Embedded in Northern Afghanistan: The Resurgence of the Taliban:In a testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, Army General John Campbell said that Afghanistan "is at an inflection point," and that 2016 could be "no better and possibly worse than 2015" if without steps to improve matters. "Now, more than ever, the United States should not waver in Afghanistan," Campbell said, warning against a complete withdrawal of US military support.After his meeting with the Afghan leaders, Kerry announced that 14 MD-530 attack helicopters and eight A-29 airplanes were "successfully integrated into the Afghan security forces," and promised to add a further 14 more helicopters to "further enhance the operational capabilities of the Afghan Air Force."The statement also said that the US "welcomed" Afghanistan's membership in the 66-nation Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (Islamic State), and noted that Afghan and US forces had "already made significant process" against the ISKP, the Islamic State's affiliate in Afghanistan.Since 2002, the US has spent more than $113 billion to rebuild Afghanistan. When adjusted for inflation, that's more than what the US spent helping to rebuild 16 European countries after World War II.
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