17:37 GMT03 March 2021
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    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - The United States will decide on the future of its mission in Afghanistan in consultations with allies and the country’s government without any surprises, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters on Friday.

    The Joe Biden administration has put on hold former President Donald Trump’s plans for a speedy withdrawal from the country and commissioned what Austin described as “a rigorous interagency review of the situation including all relevant options with full consideration of the consequences of any potential cause of action.”

    “As we move forward in our review we will consult with our NATO allies, our Resolute Support partners and of course the government of Afghanistan. And there will be no surprises. We will consult each other and consult together and decide together and act together,” he said. “We are mindful of the looming deadlines, but we want to do it methodically and deliberately. And I certainly won’t get ahead of any decisions, nor will I preview the advice that I plan to give to the President."

    In the meantime, the US military, now estimated at some 2,500 soldiers after several significant drawdowns over the last year, continue current missions.

    “And of course commanders have the right and the responsibility to defend themselves and their Afghan partners against attacks,” the Pentagon chief said.

    He decried a too high level of violence in Afghanistan and an insufficient progress at the Afghan-led negotiations.

    “I urge all parties to choose the path towards peace. And violence must decrease now,” Austin said.

    Earlier this week, he attended the NATO ministerial and vowed not to undertake “a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan that puts their forces or the alliance’s reputation at risk.”

    A year ago, the previous administration reached an agreement with the Taliban opposition movement which kickstarted intra-Afghan peace negotiations and a gradual pullout of US troops. The arrangements are now under review as much of the Trump-era foreign and security policy legacy.

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