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Defense Secretary Carter Hints At Slowing U.S. Exit From Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter (center left) is greeted with a military honor guard as he arrives to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday. Jonathan Ernst/AP hide caption

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Jonathan Ernst/AP

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter (center left) is greeted with a military honor guard as he arrives to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday.

Jonathan Ernst/AP

Newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, in a surprise visit to Afghanistan today, gave the strongest indication to date that the White House is considering slowing down its troop withdrawal timetable to accommodate security concerns.

Carter said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and President Obama would get a chance to discuss a possible "rethinking" of plans for the exit of the remaining 10,000 U.S. forces when Ghani visits Washington next month.

Carter met with top U.S. commanders and military and civilian leaders in Afghanistan during today's unannounced visit.

"We're looking for success in Afghanistan that is lasting," Carter said at a news conference in Kabul alongside Ghani. "How to do that, what the best way to do that is, is precisely what I'm here to assess."

Although U.S. and allied troops ended their combat mission at the end of 2014, U.S. troops remain in a support role. Carter said their well-being comes "first in my mind, always."

The New York Times writes: "Speaking with reporters on his military plane on the flight to Afghanistan, Mr. Carter said that he had a number of questions: 'How are the Afghan security forces doing? What is their assessment of the battlefield situation? What is their assessment of their prospects going forward? And what's the best way that we can support them going forward?'"

Ghani, the Afghan leader who replaced the mercurial Hamid Karzai last year, has made it clear that he wants to see a slowdown in White House plans to cut forces in half this year and have them all but gone sometime in 2016.

The Times says:

"Mr. Carter said that he had seen varying reports about Afghanistan, including some that said the Taliban were undergoing a resurgence and others that claimed that a small group of militants had rebranded themselves as members of the Islamic State.

"He said that he needed to travel to Afghanistan so that he could meet with senior American and Afghan officials and make his own assessment of the situation. He will begin with meetings with President Ashraf Ghani and with Mr. Ghani's chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah."