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WASHINGTON: US National Security Adviser Gen H.R. McMaster has said that the Trump administration is working on a policy which would apply to both Pakistan and Afgha­nistan, and would be announced soon.

This marks the first time a senior US official has said that the new policy would also cover Pakistan as previous statements defined it only as the Afghan policy. “And so what we’ll have at the end of the next few weeks here is an opportunity for a much more effective strategy for the problem set in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region broadly,” Gen McMaster told a White House news briefing this weekend.

The adviser said the administration was considering a proposal to send thousands of additional troops to Afghan­istan and President Donald Trump would decide when to do so after he returns from his foreign trips later this month.

Gen John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afgha­nistan, requested a “few thousand” more US troops during congressional hear­ings earlier this year. Currently, there are about 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan, along with about 4,500 from Nato and other allied nations. President Trump has delegated the authority to set troop levels in Iraq and Syria to his Defence Secre­tary James Mattis, but decisions on Afghanistan would be from the White House. Gen McMaster chairs a team of senior security advisers who are preparing the US policy for the Pak-Afghan region, which he says would also apply to the broader South Asian region.

Trump to discuss his anti-terrorism policies with Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia

Last week, Gen McMaster submitted some proposals to the president, including suggestions for sending 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan while Ameri­ca’s Nato allies would also be asked to send more troops.

The US needs more time to “figure out with our allies options we can bring to the table” in Afghanistan, and “what more can we ask our allies to do,” said Gen McMaster while explaining how this process would work.

President Trump is expected to discuss his anti-terrorism policies with Arab and Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia next where he is scheduled to attend a summit of about 20 nations from across the Muslim world. The US media reported on Saturday that Mr Trump was also finalising a $100 billion arms deal for Saudi Arabia, which might be announced during the visit.

Mr Trump will also visit Israel and attend a Nato summit in Rome where he may brief his allies on his new Afghan policy and ask them for more troops.

When asked whether the trip represents a shift in Mr Trump’s “America first” campaign slogan, Gen McMaster said, “America first didn’t ever mean Ame­rica alone, ever. America first didn’t mean America not leading.”

Gen McMaster said that Mr Trump during his trip to Saudi Arabia would also discuss “bold new steps to promote peace and to confront those from ISIS to Al Qaeda to Iran to the Assad regime [in Syria] who perpetuate chaos and violence” in the region.

The president “expects our Muslim allies to take a strong stand against radical Islamist ideology,” he added

Asked what would the president discuss in Riyadh and Brussels, Gen McMaster said he would stress the need for “all of us have to be committed to achieving our fundamental objectives in Afghanistan,” which is never to allow extremists to use that country once again for launching terrorist attacks.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2017