Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin makes his first visit to the war-torn country amid questions about how long US troops will stay there.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin recently told reporters that
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin recently told reporters that "our presence in Afghanistan is conditions based, and Taliban has to meet their commitments." (Reuters)

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has arrived in Kabul on his first trip to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, amid swirling questions about how long American troops will remain in the country.

State-owned Radio and Television Afghanistan and popular TOLO Television reported Austin's arrival in Kabul from India on Sunday. 

He also met with senior Afghan government officials, including President Ashraf Ghani.

Austin said on Twitter he had come to "listen and learn", on his first trip to Afghanistan since his appointment.

"This visit been very helpful for me, and it will inform my participation in the review we are undergoing here with (U.S. President Joe Biden)," he added.

President Joe Biden said last week in an ABC News interview that it will be "tough" for the US to meet a May 1 deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. 

But he said that if the deadline, which is laid out in an agreement between former president Donald Trump's administration and the Taliban, is extended, it wouldn't be by a "lot longer."

READ MORE: Afghans hold their breath for peace as fighting season approaches

Taliban warns of consequences 

In response, the Taliban on Friday warned of consequences if the US doesn't meet the deadline. 

Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team, told reporters that if US troops stay beyond May 1, "it will be a kind of violation of the agreement. That violation would not be from our side. ... Their violation will have a reaction."

Washington is reviewing the agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban last year.

READ MORE: US strategic thinking in Afghanistan doesn’t square with reality

US letter to Ghani

In a sharply-worded letter to Ghani earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it is urgent to make peace in Afghanistan and all options remain on the table. 

Washington has also given both the Taliban and the Afghan government an eight-page peace proposal, which both sides are reviewing. 

It calls for an interim so-called "peace government" which would shepherd Afghanistan toward constitutional reform and elections.

Ghani has resisted an interim administration causing his critics to accuse him of clinging to power. He says elections alone would be acceptable to bring a change of government.

Austin has said little on the record about the ongoing stalemate. 

After a virtual meeting of NATO defence ministers, Austin told reporters that "our presence in Afghanistan is conditions based, and Taliban has to meet their commitments."

READ MORE: Antony Blinken's neo-colonial letter to Afghanistan

Afghanistan veteran 

Austin's stop in Afghanistan marks his first return to a US warzone in the Middle East since taking the Pentagon post. 

But he spent a great deal of time in the region during his service as an Army commander. 

Austin, a retired four-star general, served in Afghanistan as commander of the 10th Mountain Division. And from 2013-2016 he was the head of US Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan visit comes at the end of Austin's his first overseas trip as secretary. After a stop in Hawaii, he went to Japan and South Korea, where he and Secretary of State Blinken met with their defence and foreign ministers.

Source: AP