US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin arrived in Kabul on Sunday for his first trip to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, amid swirling questions about how long American troops will remain in the country.

Mr Austin was received by Gen Scott Miller, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, and Afghan defence officials. He later met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“We are truly grateful for the continued support you provided to our troops that have worked here alongside Afghans for so long, and also our diplomats,” Mr Austin told Mr Ghani in a brief video of the meeting shared with the media.

In a statement issued on social media, Mr Austin said the meeting was to help in an ongoing review of the US presence in Afghanistan.

“I came to Afghanistan to listen and learn. This visit been very helpful for me, and it will inform my participation in the review we are undergoing here,” he said.

But Mr Austin would not be drawn on a date for US forces to leave the country.

“In terms of setting a specific date for withdrawal, that’s the domain of my boss,” he said, referring to US President Joe Biden.

A similar statement shared by the Afghan presidential palace said Mr Austin praised the sacrifices of the Afghan security forces in the fight against terrorism. “Both sides expressed concern about the escalation of violence in the country,” it said.

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