First Stop Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the withdrawal of US combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 will be challenging, but obtainable. “We will manage . . . in partnership with our coalition partners and with the Afghan forces,” he said on March 9 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, after arriving the previous day in Kabul on his first trip to Afghanistan as Defense Secretary. Hagel met with US, coalition, and Afghan leaders to assess the situation on the ground. “You are working under stressful and difficult conditions, and you have my profound gratitude, and the gratitude of the American people, for your service and your sacrifices,” he told coalition troops in a message. “You have my full support.” Hagel also addressed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s comments suggesting that the United States was conspiring with the Taliban to ensure US troops would remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. “We did discuss those comments. I told the president it was not true,” said Hagel. On March 9, a car bomb detonated outside the Afghan defense ministry building in Kabul, reportedly killing some Afghans and wounding more. Hagel said he heard the blast from the NATO facility he was in at the time. (Hagel transcript) (Includes AFPS report by Karen Parrish and second Parrish report)