WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior aide to President Barack Obama has just paid a visit to Afghanistan, meeting top government and military officials ahead of a White House decision on potential U.S. troop reductions.
White House Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, a longtime aide to Obama, also traveled to Uzbekistan during the May 28-31 trip to Central Asia, the White House said on Wednesday.
McDonough met "U.S. and international civilian and military officials, as well as with key Afghan counterparts and Afghan citizens, including members of the business community," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
The trip came a few weeks before an initial U.S. troop withdrawal is scheduled to be announced. Obama and his advisers are reviewing the size of the reduction and he is expected to make a decision by July.
Vietor said McDonough's visit was not tied specifically to the review of troop levels but was the "latest in a series of periodic trips" to check in with civilian and military officials about the implementation of Obama's Afghanistan strategy.
There are around 100,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, making up the bulk of coalition forces fighting the Taliban and other Islamist insurgents. Nearly 1,600 Americans have died in the 10-year-old war, along with almost 900 soldiers from Britain, Canada and other countries.
McDonough's visit to Uzbekistan was a rare one for a senior U.S. official. The country, while playing a role in the resupply of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, brutally suppresses human rights, according to rights groups and the State Department.
While in Tashkent, McDonough met Uzbek President Islam Karimov and discussed Afghanistan, among other issues, Vietor said.
"Mr. McDonough thanked President Karimov on behalf of the United States for Uzbekistan's ongoing support, including reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan," Vietor said.
(Writing by Caren Bohan; Editing by John O'Callaghan)