US Defense Chief in Afghanistan for First Visit Since New Policy
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis landed in Afghanistan Wednesday on an unannounced visit – his first since the White House unveiled a revised plan for the U.S.-led war here.
Mattis landed in Kabul, his second stop on a South Asia tour that began in New Delhi.
President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan plan, announced last month, envisions a greater role for regional players, including India, to help break the deadlock with Taliban insurgents.
During his stop in the Indian capital, Mattis praised India’s “invaluable” contributions to Afghanistan, and welcomed “further efforts to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, and security.”
Mattis’ Indian counterpart, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, promised to strengthen cooperation with Kabul, though he ruled out sending any Indian troops there.
The U.S. plan calls for a larger military presence in Afghanistan. Mattis recently announced the U.S. would send another 3,000 American troops, bringing the total number in the country to over 14,000.
Trump’s plan also calls for more bombs. Official military figures show the U.S. dropped more weapons (503) on Afghanistan during August than in any other single month since 2012.
In a stalemate after 16 years of fighting, U.S. troops are involved primarily in a non-combat role, providing advice and assistance to Afghan defense forces and institutions.
Trump has stressed that the U.S. troops will only be withdrawn based on conditions on the ground, and has refused to set fixed withdrawal dates, as did his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Saudi Government Will Allow Women to Drive
Saudi Arabia will allow women to drive for the first time, according to a royal decree.
State media said Tuesday the king's decree called for the “issuance of driving licenses for men and women alike."
Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington and the king's son, said letting women drive is a "huge step forward,'' one for which "society is ready.''
"This is the right time to do the right thing,'' he told reporters in the U.S.
Neither Islamic law nor Saudi traffic law explicitly prohibited women from driving in the past, but they were not issued licenses and were detained if they attempted to drive.
The state news agency SPA reported the order will go into effect by June 2018.
Amnesty International said the decree was a "testament to the bravery of women activists who have been campaigning for years [and] the government of Saudi Arabia has finally relented."
U.S. President Donald Trump commended Saudi Arabia for the decision and said the United States will support Saudi efforts to strengthen its society and economy.
"This is a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia," said a statement from his press secretary.
In celebration of the announcement, several Saudi women posted images on social media showing them deleting ride-sharing apps from their mobile phones.