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Pentagon, NATO Chiefs Issue Warning To Taliban During Surprise Visit To Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C), U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (R) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during a news conference in Kabul on September 27.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have pledged continued support for Afghanistan during a surprise visit to Kabul.

The two vowed at a September 27 joint conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to do everything so the country "doesn't again become a safe haven for international terrorists."

Stoltenberg said NATO is aware of "the cost of staying in Afghanistan, but the cost of leaving would be even higher."

He added that "if NATO forces leave too soon, there is a risk that Afghanistan may return to a state of chaos and once again become a safe haven for international terrorism."

Stoltenberg also said the alliance was committed to funding the Afghan security forces until at least 2020. He said NATO would keep providing almost $1 billion each year to the Afghan defense and security forces.

Mattis said that "through our partnership, we will suffocate any hope that Al-Qaeda or [Islamic State],...Haqqani or the Taliban have of winning by killing," referring to militant groups operating in Afghanistan.

He added that he wanted "to reinforce to the Taliban that the only path to peace and political legitimacy for them is through a negotiated settlement."

"The sooner the Taliban recognizes they cannot win with bombs, the sooner the killing will end," Mattis said.

Meanwhile, at least five civilians were wounded in a rocket attack at Kabul's international airport, the spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry said.

Najib Danish said one rocket hit a nearby home, injuring the five, including at least one woman.

Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which Ghani said special-forces troops have brought under control.

Mattis called the attack a crime.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa

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