WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, while signing deployment orders for additional American troops to Afghanistan, has also expressed the desire to work with Pakistan to defeat terrorists.
The US defence chief has also announced that American troops in Afghanistan will not only train Afghan national security forces but have also been authorised to engage the enemy.
“We intend to work with Pakistan in order to take the terrorists down. I think that’s what a responsible nation does,” said Secretary Mattis when asked at a Pentagon news briefing on Thursday “what kind of relationship the US wanted to keep with Pakistan”.
Journalists also reminded him that last week Pakistan had cancelled three high-level meetings with the US while the country’s parliament also passed a resolution describing recent US statements on Pakistan as hostile and threatening. Mr Mattis stressed the need for continuing the relationship with Pakistan while responding to these questions.
Earlier on Thursday, the US State Department too expressed a similar desire but also announced that it was placing $255 million of military assistance for Pakistan into an escrow account. Islamabad can only access this account if it successfully stops cross-border terrorist attacks into Afghanistan and helps the United States win the war.
Thursday’s briefing, however, focused mostly on Afghanistan as Secretary Mattis used it to announce that he has signed deployment orders to send additional troops to Afghanistan. He said he would outline the rationale for sending additional forces in more detail when he testifies to Congress on Wednesday.
Asked if he was sending combat troops or trainers, the secretary said: “Well, let me just be real clear. When you go into Afghanistan and you’re carrying a gun, you’re going into a combat zone.”
Pentagon officials told reporters on Wednesday that the military was also reorganising some of the forces already in Afghanistan to carry out the new mission, which involves engaging the enemy.
But Mr Mattis said that most of the fight was still done by the Afghan security forces and the 38 other allies deployed in Afghanistan.
A Pentagon official said the United States currently had about 11,000 troops in Afghanistan to advise Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism missions. Some media outlets reported that the Pentagon would send nearly 4,000 additional troops, some of whom might come from the 82nd Airborne Division.
Last week, Pakistan rescheduled cabinet, foreign affairs and security talks with the United States that aimed to explore how the two countries could rebuild their relations under the guidelines set by President Donald Trump in his Aug 21 speech.
Mr Trump used that speech to announce his new strategy for South Asia, which denounces Pakistan for allegedly allowing terrorists to maintain safe havens inside its territory. It also gave India a bigger role in Afghanistan, stoking fears in Islamabad that India would use this opportunity for stirring troubles in the bordering areas of Pakistan.
The strategy also suggested that punitive actions could be taken against Pakistan if it did not stop alleged cross-border attacks on US and Afghan troops.
Since Aug 21, more than a dozen retired US officials and generals have warned that the US decision could further tighten the screws on Pakistan and to give a greater role to India in Afghanistan could backfire.
The possibility that the new strategy could also cause Islamabad to close the US supply route to Afghanistan was also raised at a news briefing by a senior US official last week who acknowledged that Washington still counted on the lines of communications on ground that passed through Pakistan. President Trump’s decision to enhance US military presence in Afghanistan increases the importance of this supply line.
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2017