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WASHINGTON: Two key of members the Trump cabinet — secretaries for state and defence — have said that Thursday’s terrorist attacks in Kandahar will not change America’s South Asia strategy, which seeks to force the insurgents to accept a peace deal, through diplomacy and military strikes.

Three key Afghan officials — including Kandahar’s police and intelligence chiefs — were killed in the attack, which targeted Gen Scott Miller, the US military commander in Afghanistan. Gen Miller, however, had left the targeted area minutes before the attack.

The first US reaction to the attack came from Pentagon Spokesman Kone Faulkner, who declared that the “attack will not change US resolve in our South Asia strategy, if anything it makes us more resolute.”

His boss, Defence Secretary James Mattis, went a step ahead and underlined a key component of this policy.

“We remain absolutely committed to an Afghan-led Afghan reconciliation,” he said. “Right now, we’re going toward the election and we will continue to defend the Afghan people.”

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo also emphasised this point, saying: “The United States is resolved to continue its support for the government and people of Afghanistan as they work to provide security for all Afghan citizens, including for the upcoming parliamentary elections on Oct 20.”

The local government in Kandahar, however, declared that it was postponing elections in the province for a weak.

Secretary Pompeo pointed out that the attack, which happened in the final days of campaigning in Afghanistan, stood “in stark contrast to the aspirations of the Afghan people for peace, security, and economic stability.”

Secretary Mattis was cautious in predicting how the attack would impact the Afghan election.

“Terrorism can have a short-term effect. I think it’s too early to say whether it will have any real effect on the upcoming election. I’m not willing to say that right now,” he said.

A retired US general, Gary Harrell, told a prestigious Congressional news outlet, The Hill, that such attacks would not weaken President Donald Trump or Gen. Miller’s resolve to end the Afghan war on US terms.

“If anybody can do it, President Trump can,” said Gen Harrell, a former Delta Force commander in Afghanistan. He also praised Gen Miller. “I think President Trump has the right man on the ground in Scott Miller,” he said.

To show that terrorist attacks could not deter him from leading from the front. Gen Miller walked the streets of Kabul on Friday, talking with security forces about making Saturday’s election safe.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2018