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Ghani, U.S. Allies Welcome Trump's Commitment In Afghanistan

  • RFE/RL

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has welcomed the United States' "enduring commitment" in Afghanistan after U.S. President Donald Trump outlined a strategy for the war-wracked country.

In an August 22 statement, Ghani thanked Trump and the American people for supporting "our joint struggle to rid the region [of] the threat of terrorism."

"The U.S.-Afghan partnership is stronger than ever," he added.

During his first formal address to the nation on August 21, Trump backtracked from his campaign pledge to end the United States' longest war as he appeared to commit the country to an open-ended conflict in Afghanistan.

However, he sidestepped an announcement on U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan, saying he would not "talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities."

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on August 22 that he was waiting for a plan from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before he makes a decision on how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan.

"When he brings that to me, I will determine how many more we need to send in,” he said during a visit to Baghdad. “It may or may not be the number that is bandied about."

The Pentagon has recommended sending nearly 4,000 new troops.

Since peaking at about 100,000 troops in 2010-11, the U.S. force in Afghanistan has diminished. The United States currently maintains 8,400 troops there -- a cap set last year by then-President Barack Obama.

About 5,000 non-U.S. NATO forces are also still in the country, but Britain and other European allies have pledged additional contributions to the alliance’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Trump’s “new, conditions-based approach to Afghanistan and the region.”

"Our aim remains to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who would attack our own countries," he said in a statement.

"The U.S. commitment is very welcome," British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in a statement, adding that it is "in all our interests that Afghanistan become more prosperous and safer."

The German government said it was welcoming "the United States' readiness to continue its long-term commitment in Afghanistan."

A statement also pressed for Kabul to step up its reform and anticorruption efforts and to "seek dialogue with the parts of the Taliban that are prepared for a peaceful reconciliation."

In his speech, Trump warned that Washington will no longer tolerate Pakistan offering "safe havens" to extremist groups such as the Afghan Taliban, a claim Islamabad denies.

At a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan on August 22, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif "reiterated Pakistan's...desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan" and pledged to "work with the international community to eliminate the menace of terrorism," the Foreign Ministry said.

But some Pakistani lawmakers sharply criticized Trump's address.

“The people of Pakistan have suffered the most due to war and terrorism,” Senator Sirajul Haq, leader of the Jamat-e-Islami party, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal. “Instead of sympathizing with our people, [the Americans] are taunting us and scratching our wounds.

"We do not think this policy will render any good to regional peace or the people," Haq said.

Asked about Trump's speech, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying defended Beijing's ally Pakistan, saying it had made "great sacrifices" and "important contributions" in the fight against terrorism.

The U.S. president also said he wanted to "further develop its strategic partnership” with Pakistan's archrival, India, and get New Delhi to "help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development."

India, one of Kabul's closest allies, had spent billions on aid and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.

The Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it welcomed Trump's "determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges faced by Afghanistan and in confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists" -- without naming Pakistan.

It also reaffirmed New Delhi’s policy of supporting the government and the people of Afghanistan in their efforts “to bring peace, security, stability and prosperity in their country."

Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid dismissed Trump's strategy as "nothing new" and told the United States to think of an exit strategy "instead of continuing the war."

The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 after invoking NATO's Article 5 clause on collective self-defense following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The U.S.-led campaign overthrew the Islamist Taliban government, which was hosting Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his group's training camps.

But U.S. forces have remained bogged down there through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Obama, and now Trump.

A U.S. report found earlier this year that the Taliban controls or contests control of about 40 percent of the country.

U.S. military and intelligence officials are concerned that a withdrawal or reduced presence of U.S. forces would give the Taliban the upper hand in the current standoff and allow Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants to use Afghanistan as a base for plotting attacks on the United States and its allies.

The strategy in Afghanistan was complicated by internal differences over whether the United States should take a harder line toward Pakistan for failing to shut down alleged Afghan Taliban sanctuaries and arrest Afghan extremist leaders.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, Reuters, AP, and AFP
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