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Six rockets land near Kabul airport after Mattis arrives

KABUL: Six rockets landed near Kabul’s international airport on Wednesday after US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis flew to the Afghan capital for talks, an official said.

The volley of missiles struck near the military section of the airport but there were no casualties or immediate claim of responsibility, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP.

Police have cordoned off the area to find the exact location from which the rockets were fired, he said, adding that no flights were cancelled.

The attack came hours after Mattis arrived in the Afghan capital, the first member of Donald Trump’s cabinet to visit the war-torn country since his pledge to stay the course in America’s longest war.

The unannounced high-level visit comes as Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces struggle to beat back the Taliban, which has been on the offensive since the withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops at the end of 2014.

Mattis, along with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, will meet President Ashraf Ghani and other top officials to discuss the US-led NATO “train and assist” mission designed to strengthen Afghanistan’s military so it can defend the country on its own.

“Discussions will focus on the NATO-Afghanistan partnership, including the ongoing NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in support of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces,” a statement on Resolute Support’s Facebook page said.

Under Trump’s plan, the US is sending more than 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 11,000 already on the ground, to train and advise the country’s security forces.

NATO allies have around 5,000 troops deployed around the country.

Critics have questioned what the extra US soldiers can accomplish that previous forces — who numbered some 100,000 at the height of the fighting — have not.

Earlier this year Ghani ordered a near-doubling of the country’s Special Operations Command -– the elite fighting force spearheading Afghanistan’s war against insurgents — from 17,000 as part of a four-year plan that also aims to strengthen Afghanistan’s air force.

Afghanistan’s soldiers have been severely demoralised and weakened by huge casualties, desertions and corruption.

In an acknowledgement of their impotence, the government is considering a plan to train and arm 20,000 civilians to defend territories where Islamic militants have been driven out.

Mattis flew to Kabul from New Delhi where he met his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman, who made it clear that India would not deploy troops to Afghanistan as part of Trump’s strategy.

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