Afghan defense minister, army chief of staff resign over military base attack

Shahhussain Murtazawi, a spokesman for the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, confirmed the resignations of the defense minister, Gen. Abdullah Habibi, and the chief of staff, Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim.

The attack happened on Friday at an army base near Mazar-e Sharif.

Afghan officials said earlier that the country's army chief and the defense minister resigned following the weekend Taliban attack.

Nicholson also said that in view of the sophisticated planning behind last Friday's massacre of more than 140 Afghan troops at a military base, "it's quite possible" that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network was responsible.

President Donald Trump's administration is reviewing America's strategy for its longest war and weighing what impact the proposed deployment of several thousand additional troops into Afghanistan could have on the battlefield stalemate with the Taliban.

During his first visit Defense Secretary Mattis will meet President Ghani as well as other government officials.

The Afghan war is the longest in United States history but Trump has scarcely given it a passing mention - other than to call the MOAB strike a success - while campaigning or since entering office.

Mattis, who has previously served with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, has said he is compiling an assessment for President Donald Trump on the brutal and seemingly intractable conflict.

"Nobody in the world has been able to prevent such attacks", he said of the base assault.

McMaster said in a TV interview after returning to Washington that the USA in recent years has scaled back its military effort against the Taliban.

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On Monday, a small group of demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace in Kabul to demand the resignation of top Afghan defence officials over the attack.

Habibi repeated that more information about the death toll would be given when an investigation is complete, though he admitted the casualties were "high".

The authorities have not released definitive numbers for the casualty tolls but Afzel Hadid, the head of the provincial council in Balkh, told The Associated Press that at least 130 people were killed and 80 were wounded.

Trump's administration is seeking to build its strategy for the Afghan conflict - the longest war in USA history.

U.S. troops have been fighting for almost 16 years in Afghanistan, where the government and its coalition allies were battling a resilient Taliban as well as other terror groups including ISIS.

Trump's administration is considering whether to make changes to the US mission training and advising Afghan forces, and conducting raids against militant groups such as ISIS.

Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, recently told a Congressional hearing that he needed several thousand more worldwide troops in order to break a stalemate in the long war with Taliban insurgents.

From January 1 through November 12 a year ago, 6,785 Afghan national security forces were killed, according to the latest quarterly report of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

Among the questions facing the administration is how to maintain pressure on a resilient Taliban and keep up counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan without prolonging a stalemate that is costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

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