KABUL — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Kabul on Wednesday on a diplomatic drive ahead of international conferences to be held later this year aimed at finding a peaceable end to the 10-year war.
Clinton’s plane touched down in Kabul at 9:15pm (16:45 GMT) for a visit aimed at building on the “diplomatic surge” she announced earlier this year, a senior state department official told travelling media.
The top US diplomat was due to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday.
“She wants to signal US support for a secure and stable Afghanistan,” a senior State Department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity as Clinton prepared her meetings with US officials.
He added: “She will want to emphasise that the United States remains committed to Afghan reconciliation,” particularly in the wake of last month’s assassination of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Rabbani, Afghanistan’s chief negotiator with the Taliban, headed a government council seeking a political settlement with the insurgents.
Another official said a conference of regional powers to be held in Istanbul in early November, and an international meeting of foreign ministers in Bonn, Germany, in early December, would be part of discussions.
After ten years of military conflict in Afghanistan that has cost thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, Washington is grappling for a negotiated exit to the war ahead of the 2012 US presidential elections.
Tentative discussions with the Taliban aimed at full peace talks have so far come to nothing, officials acknowledge, and Western powers have been attempting to draw in the help of Afghanistan’s neighbours with little success so far.
Many Afghans hold Pakistan responsible for the war’s long course, as senior Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants are believed to hold bases along the restive border that separates the two countries.
The United States recently vowed to strengthen its troubled alliance with Pakistan, knowing that the nuclear-armed nation will be a key stakeholder in any eventual political settlement in Afghanistan.
Diplomatic efforts are meant to complement a military surge of 33,000 troops sent in to Afghanistan nearly two years ago to break the back of the Taliban insurgency.
The first tranche of surge troops returned to the US this summer, while the remaining 23,000 troops are set to return by the end of summer 2012, with all NATO-led combat forces scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.
There are currently 98,000 US troops out a total NATO-led force of 130,000 deployed to Afghanistan, fighting an insurgency that remains virulent across the country, with the war now focused on the eastern border with Pakistan.
But experts doubt the ability of the Afghan army and police to ward off the Taliban on their own, and US officials and officers have mooted the possibility that a smaller US military contingent could remain beyond the 2014 deadline.
Long term strategic arrangements between the two countries would also be discussed during Clinton’s visit, the senior official said.