Ashton Carter: New Pentagon chief says U.S. may slow Afghanistan exit.

New Pentagon Chief Says U.S. May Slow Exit From Afghanistan

New Pentagon Chief Says U.S. May Slow Exit From Afghanistan

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Feb. 21 2015 1:06 PM

New Pentagon Chief Says U.S. May Slow Exit From Afghanistan

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (R) laughs with U.S. Army General John Campbell, who greeted him upon his arrival at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Feb. 21, 2015 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images

Ashton Carter, the new secretary of Defense, says he will try to convince President Obama to slow down the current timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Carter used his first visit to Afghanistan since swearing in as Pentagon chief on Tuesday to praise the country’s new unity government. The improved relationship between Washington and Kabul could push Obama to make a change to the current timetable, Carter said after meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Our priority now is to make sure this progress sticks,” Carter said, according to Bloomberg. “That is why President Obama is considering a number of options to reinforce our support for President Ghani’s security strategy, including possible changes to the timeline for our drawdown of U.S. troops.”

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The reassessment “could mean taking another look at the timing and sequencing of base closures to ensure we have the right array of capabilities,” Carter said at a joint press conference with Ghani after their meeting. “We are discussing and rethinking details of a counterterrorism mission and how the environment has changed here.”  

As the Associated Press makes clear though, Carter never said Obama was considering keeping troops beyond 2016, only that he was rethinking the pace of the withdrawals. Under the current schedule, the number of troops should drop by half from 10,000 by the end of this year and be at nearly zero by the end of 2016. Obama is expected to make a final decision after the Afghan president visits Washington next month.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.