Asked what his message to the Taliban would be, he said that the US was going to continue to work with its allies to insure that the Afghan people have the ability to develop their own country and democracy.
Hagel's first visit to Kabul as Pentagon chief comes as the US and Afghanistan grapple with a number of disputes, from the aborted handover of a main detention facility — canceled at the last moment late Friday as a deal for the transfer broke down — to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's demand that US special operations forces withdraw from Wardak province just outside Kabul over allegations of abuse.
The prison transfer, originally slated for 2009, has been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between the US and Afghan governments about whether all detainees should have the right to a trial and who will have the ultimate authority over the release of prisoners the US considers a threat.
The Afghan government has maintained that it needs full control over which prisoners are released as a matter of national sovereignty. The issue has threatened to undermine ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of US forces in Afghanistan after the current combat mission ends in 2014.
US military officials said Saturday's transfer ceremony was canceled because they could not finalize the agreement with the Afghans, but did not provide details. Afghan officials were less forthcoming.
"The ceremony is not happening today," Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said, without elaborating.