U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Afghanistan late Thursday on an unannounced visit amid turmoil in the South Asian country.
The visit aims to press the country’s two feuding presidential candidates on the urgency of ending a bitter dispute over June elections and forming a new government by early September. It also follows Tuesday’s killing of a U.S. general by a gunman wearing an Afghan military uniform at the national defense university.
Election results from Afghanistan’s presidential elections are currently being audited, a process that the Secretary of State helped to broker. The U.S. wants to see the ultimate winner inaugurated and a new “chief executive officer” chosen by the loser under the terms of a national unity government compromise before an upcoming NATO summit in September.
At that summit, NATO leaders are hoping to make decisions about their nations’ role in Afghanistan after the end of the year, when most combat troops will be withdrawn.
Kerry planned to meet both candidates — former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai — on Thursday night and then meet with current Afghan President Hamid Karzai before he leaves Friday for an Asian security conference in Myanmar.
The audit of ballots from the June 14 presidential runoff resumed Monday after a holiday break and is still likely to take weeks to complete. Preliminary results showed Ghani Ahmadzai well ahead of Abdullah, but both sides alleged fraud.
While Karzai has said the next president will be inaugurated on Aug. 25, most officials involved in the process say the deadline is optimistic and it could take until the end of the month for a winner to emerge at the earliest. “We are hopeful the secretary can obtain a commitment by both candidates to a timeline for completing the audit and agreeing on the details of a national unity government,” said a senior State Department official who briefed reporters en route to Kabul.
Report compiled with information from Reuters and The Associated Press