US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg renewed their commitment to Afghanistan on Wednesday, as the Taliban launched a rocket attack that wounded five civilians in Kabul.
Mattis is the first member of US President Donald Trump’s cabinet to visit the war-torn country since Trump pledged to stay the course in America’s longest war.
In a sign of the country’s continuing insecurity a volley of rockets landed on a house near Kabul international airport hours after Mattis flew in, the interior ministry said.
Five members of the same family were wounded in the assault claimed by the Taliban, which said on social media the missiles had been aimed at Mattis’s plane
A stand-off between security forces and the attackers is under way.
The unannounced high-level visit comes as Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces struggle to beat back the Taliban, which has been on the offensive since the withdrawal of US-led Nato combat troops at the end of 2014.
Mattis, along with Stoltenberg, was to hold talks with President Ashraf Ghani and other top officials to discuss the US-led Nato “train and assist” mission designed to strengthen Afghanistan’s military so it can defend the country on its own.
At a joint news conference with Ghani at the presidential palace Mattis and Stoltenberg pledged the support of US and Nato allies to the Afghan conflict and expressed determination to stop the country becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
The foreign assistance would give Afghan forces a “compelling battlefield advantage over anything the Taliban stands to mass against” it, Mattis told reporters.
Stoltenberg said: “The more stable Afghanistan is the more safe we will be,” adding that more than 15 Nato members had agreed to send additional troops.
US generals have for months been describing the situation in Afghanistan as a stalemate, despite years of support for Afghan partners, continued help from a Nato coalition and an overall cost in fighting and reconstruction to the United States of more than $1 trillion.