Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (R) will meet US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on March 21, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Presidential Palace / handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Afghanistan Sunday to meet with the nation’s leader as Washington contemplates a possible end to America’s longest war.

The trip that makes Austin the first Biden cabinet-level official to visit the war-torn country comes 40 days before the U.S. troop withdrawal date.

In February 2020, the United States signed a treaty with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent ceasefire and further reduce the US military’s footprint from around 13,000 soldiers to 8,600 by mid-July last year.

According to the agreement, all foreign armed forces would have left Afghanistan by May 2021. There are currently around 2,500 US troops in the country.

The Biden government has not yet announced its next steps in Afghanistan.

The collective wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost US taxpayers more than $ 1.57 trillion since September 11, 2001, according to a Department of Defense report.

Current US military operations, known as Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq, and Operation Noble Eagle for homeland security missions in the US and Canada, accounted for $ 265.7 billion of that total.

Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001 and officially ended in December 2014, cost taxpayers $ 578.7 billion.

Of the three ongoing operations, Freedom’s Sentinel accounts for the lion’s share of the cost at $ 197.3 billion, followed by Inherent Resolve at $ 40.5 billion and Noble Eagle at $ 27.9 billion.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin goes for a walk during his visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, March 21, 2021.

Presidential Palace / handout via REUTERS

According to the report, the money will be used for training, equipment, maintenance, food, clothing, medical care and payment of troops.

Last month, the most powerful military alliance in the world met to discuss a number of challenges facing the group of 30. The way forward in Afghanistan was at the top of the agenda. NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and currently has more than 7,000 soldiers in the country.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would continue to assess the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.

“Our goal is to ensure that we have a lasting political agreement that will allow us to leave in a way that doesn’t undermine our primary objective and that prevents Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven again.” [for terrorists]”Said Stoltenberg.

“The majority of the troops come from European allies and partner countries. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our troops are safe,” he said when asked if the alliance would be prepared for violence if the deal with the Taliban is reached is broken.

Austin told reporters shortly after the NATO meeting that the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan would depend on reducing violence in the country.

“The violence needs to decrease now,” Austin said in his first press conference with reporters. “I have told our allies that regardless of the outcome of our review, the United States will not make a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan,” he said, referring to the NATO virtual meetings.

“There will be no surprises. We will consult, consult together and decide together and act together,” said Austin of the NATO-led mission.