Kandahar, Feb 22: US Defense Secretary Ash Carter is getting briefed on American military operations at Kandahar airfield in southern Afghanistan as part of what he calls a listening tour of the war zone.
On his second day in Afghanistan, Carter flew to Kandahar from Kabul, the capital, where he had held a series of talks with Afghan government leaders and American military commanders.
Carter is in Kandahar to receive briefings from US and Afghan commanders on progress in training Afghan security forces.
Kandahar is home to the Afghan Army's 205th Corps, elements of which are involved in a major offensive against the Taliban in neighbouring Helmand province. US special operations forces also use the airfield at Kandahar to launch counter-terrorism operations.
Under the Obama administration's exit plan for Afghanistan, the US military presence at Kandahar will close down this year. President Barack Obama, however, is considering changes to the plan, including the possibility of keeping Kandahar open longer while keeping more US troops in Afghanistan this year and next than presently planned.
An Obama decision may come as early as next month when he hosts Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House. Kandahar is one of several "hubs" around Afghanistan where US troops are training and advising Afghan security forces.
The US combat mission ended two months ago, and the focus this year for the 10,000 troops who remain is on consolidating gains in the development of the Afghan forces while also carrying out US counterterrorism raids on remnants of al-Qaida and associated extremist groups.