US Defence Secretary meets Karzai in Kabul
Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with the newly-appointed US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta late Saturday during his first visit to Kabul since taking office, officials said, dpa reported.
The president and the secretary, who took office last week, talked about bilateral relations, joint counter terrorism efforts, transition process, equipping the Afghan national army and strategic relationship between US and Afghanistan, according to a statement released by the presidential palace.
The meeting took place in Karzai's fortified palace in Kabul. Officials were reluctant to say how long Panetta would stay in Afghanistan.
According to reports, he also met with the US Commander in Afghanistan David Petraeus, who is soon leaving Afghanistan to take up Panetta's previous job at the Central Intelligence Agency.
US President Barack Obama in June announced a 15-month long drawdown of 33,000 US forces from Afghanistan starting this month.
Around 97,000 US forces, along with 40,000 NATO soldiers, are fighting the Taliban insurgency in a battle that has stretched for almost a decade.
However, the defeat of al-Qaeda was now "within reach," Panetta told reporters during his unannounced visit, The New York Times reported.
"We made an important start with that in getting rid of (Osama) bin Laden," the US daily quoted the former director of CIA as saying while on his way to Kabul.
"But I was convinced in my capacity - and I'm convinced in this capacity - that we're within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda."
His comments came hours after two NATO soldiers were killed and another injured in a shootout in Afghanistan's northern province of Panjshir.
Bin Laden, the head of the Islamist terrorist organization, was killed by US forces in a raid on his secret compound in Pakistan at the beginning of May.
Panetta took over as secretary of defence from Robert Gates, who retired on July 1.