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US to stay in Afghanistan

June 10, 2018

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WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has informed Congress that he plans to continue American offensives in Afghanistan as his senior military commanders vowed to launch a new campaign to defeat the Taliban and IS militants.

In a letter to Congress, released to the media on Saturday, Trump wrote that the United States “remains in an armed conflict, including in Afghanistan and against the Taliban, and active hostilities remain ongoing”.

He identified US targets in Afghanistan as continuing counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda and IS and against those who “threaten the viability of the Afghan government or the ability of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces to achieve campaign success”.

He informed US lawmakers that “active hostilities remain ongoing” against the Taliban as well.

On Friday, the commander of the US and Nato troops in Afghanistan announced that his forces plan to intensify the fight against the IS in Afghanistan.

The announcement coincided with a similar declaration by US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis who pledged to continue military pressure on IS even after fighting in Syria is over.

General Nicholson said the fight against IS in Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan, would be further stepped up during the Afghan ceasefire against the Taliban.

Earlier this week, the US and Afghan governments announced a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan to allow the Afghan people to celebrate Eid in relative peace.

Although dozens of people were killed in renewed fighting between the official Afghan forces and Taliban militants in the last two days, both sides vowed to observe the truce from Sunday.

Nicholson, however, warned that US forces will respond if Taliban attack Afghan, American or Nato troops during the ceasefire.

An official Pentagon report quoted Mattis as telling Nato commanders in Brussels on Friday that US partners in Syria had already launched “the first of several offensives to diminish IS’ physical caliphate”.

He said as US military operations conclude in Syria, “we must avoid leaving a vacuum in Syria that can be exploited by the [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] regime or its supporters.”

But other US officials indicated that in Afghanistan, Washington plans to apply a combination of both peace and military offensive to ensure that America’s longest ever war comes to an end.

At a State Department news briefing this week, a senior Trump administration official told repor-ters their goal was to compel the Taliban — with help from Pakistan and other interested nations — to seek peace.

Trump also emphasised this point in his letter to Congress, telling the lawmakers that his intention is to create the right “conditions to support a political process to achieve a lasting peace”.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2018