Austin Pledges U.S. Won’t Act Abruptly on Afghanistan Pullout
(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin vowed a “thoughtful and deliberate” review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, signaling Friday that the Pentagon may not stick to the Trump administration’s agreement to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops as soon as May.
In his first press conference as Pentagon chief, Austin told reporters that the U.S. is committed to working with allies on its strategy in the war-ravaged nation, promising that there would be “no surprises” -- for NATO partners or the Afghan government. He also said that more progress was needed on Afghan-led negotiations with the Taliban and that the current levels of violence were too high.
“All of us are mindful of the time that’s available, but we’re really focused on making sure the negotiation process takes place as it should,” Austin said. “Hopefully the parties will abide by commitments they made at the outset of the negotiations.”
Austin also said that:
- Many NATO allies “meet or exceed” spending pledges, marking a break with former President Donald Trump’s frequent criticism of alliance members that fall short of the goal to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.
- He welcomes plans for an “expanded” NATO mission in Iraq as the U.S. reduces its presence.
- He had a “good call” with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and that the kingdom had heard the Biden administration “loud and clear” on its decision to stop support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen.
- He warned of an “increasingly aggressive,” China which he said had “consistently undermined” the rules-based international order. He said that any cooperation with China “will be based on our best interests.”
- He takes the issue of sexual assault in the military “very, very” seriously and that the department will “do everything in our power to get it right,” despite evidence that past pledges by military leaders fell short.
- Extremism in the armed forces “tears at the very fabric of cohesion” and said leaders should be educated on signs of extremism in the ranks. He added that he expects the number of cases discovered in a review to be small but said that small numbers have an “outsized impact.”
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