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Kerry in surprise visit to Afghanistan urges government unity

Afghanistan has been ensnarled in political infighting that is undermining a US-brokered unity government. At the top of Kerry's agenda were governance, democracy, security and development.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kabul on Saturday in a surprise visit to urge cooperation in a fractured unity government that has proven incapable of governing at a time when the Taliban are regaining strength.

Kerry was set to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to urge the two rivals to end "factional divisions."

"We need to make certain that the government of national unity is doing everything possible to be unified and to deliver to the people of Afghanistan," Kerry told Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani.

Talks were expected to center around security, governance and economic development in the war-torn country.

Corruption, factionalism and incompetence

Kerry helped engineer the unity government that came to power in September 2014 after contested elections in which both Ghani and Abdullah claimed victory.

Eighteen months later, hopes that the unity government would deliver peace and economic stability have been tarnished by corruption, factionalism and incompetence. Several ministers have already resigned.

The factionalism comes as parliamentary elections that have already been delayed by a year are scheduled for October.

The timing of those elections coincides with a meeting of donor nations in Brussels in October to make aid pledges. How the Afghan government functions could have significant impact on international aid, most of which has been wasted with few results on the ground.

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Afghan refugees celebrate Nawroz

In July, NATO will meet in Warsaw to decide on funding Afghanistan's security forces.

Kerry said US and Afghan officials need "to make certain that we use the time between now and the meeting in Warsaw and the meeting in Brussels to make sure that we are putting Afghanistan's best foot forward."

Resurgent Taliban

Meanwhile, the resurgent Taliban under their new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour said the movement is preparing for "decisive strikes" against Afghan government forces ahead of the spring fighting season.

Mansour has largely been able to consolidate his power over the Taliban after it emerged that their former leader, Mullah Omar, had died.

Dashing hopes for an end to nearly 15 years of war, the Taliban in March

shot down the idea of joining peace talks

with Afghan, Chinese, US and

Pakistani participation.

Looming on the horizon is an anticipated reduction in US troop levels next year. The US currently has 9,800 troops in the country in a training and advisory role, although they also conduct counterterrorism support missions.

Those numbers are scheduled to be slashed in half next year, although battlefield conditions and the strength of Afghan security forces could slow the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.

cw/xx (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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