Afghanistan wants the United States to send more forces to help battle the Taliban and the Islamic State extremist group, the country's top diplomat has said.
Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani on March 21 welcomed a recent call by U.S. General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for a few thousand more troops from the United States or other coalition partners to help break the stalemate in the war-torn country.
The Trump administration has not yet said if it will send more forces in response to Nicholson's comments. Some 8,400 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan, performing counterterrorism operations against insurgents and training the Afghan National Army. The war is in its 16th year.
Citing a deadly attack this month on a military hospital in Kabul, Rabbani said Afghanistan needed U.S. help in addressing "military shortfalls," through increased training, ground and air capabilities, and reconnaissance and intelligence support.
"We stand confident that the new U.S. administration under President Trump will remain strategically engaged and continue its support," Rabbani said at the Atlantic Council conference ahead of a gathering in Washington of the U.S.-led coalition against IS.
He described Nicholson's call as "an appropriate decision considering the prevailing security challenges still facing us."
In a sign of how major powers are vying for influence in the region, Rabbani said Russia was planning a 12-country conference on Afghanistan. The former Soviet Union engaged in a disastrous decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Rabbani said the United States had been invited but didn't know if it would attend. The State Department said it hadn't yet decided on its participation.
Rabbani said the discussions would follow up on six-country talks held in mid-February involving China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Iran. He said he did not think the Taliban would be invited.
In congressional testimony last month, Nicholson said Russia had been publicly legitimizing the Taliban and seeking to undermine the United States and NATO in Afghanistan.
Rabbani said Russia and Iran had both told Kabul they have been in contact with the Taliban to encourage a return to the negotiating table, but deny providing the Taliban material support.
With reporting by AP and Radio Pakistan