KABUL (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued an upbeat message on Afghanistan’s future Saturday as he visited Kabul in the final weeks of NATO’s 13-year war against the Taleban.
Hagel said Afghanistan had “come a long way” over the past decade and that a newly elected government and its army were ready to take charge of security as the bulk of the international force departs by the end of the month.
“As difficult, as challenging, as long as this has been – by any definition, the country of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan are far better off today than they were 13 years ago,” Hagel told reporters on his plane.
“They have the ability to decide their own fate, their own way, on their terms. They’re not completely there yet. But they’ve come a long way,” he said.
The advances had come as a result of the “blood and treasure” spent by American, allied and Afghan troops, he added.
Hagel, who is shortly to step down from office, will meet with President Ashraf Ghani as well as senior US commanders and some US troops who are still deployed in the country.
NATO’s combat mission ends on December 31, and will be replaced by a US-led support mission of about 12,500 soldiers who will train and assist the Afghan security forces, as well as undertake counter-terrorism operations.
About 130,000 NATO troops were fighting in Afghanistan in 2010 at the peak of the foreign intervention, after the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001.