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U.S. Defense Chief Says To Try ‘One More Time’ To Work With Pakistan On Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the "political and security situation in Afghanistan" in Washington, D.C., on October 3.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the United States will try "one more time" to work with Pakistan before turning to other measures over Islamabad’s alleged support for militant groups operating in Afghanistan.

Mattis told a House Armed Services Committee hearing on October 3 that "we need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with, and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, President [Donald] Trump is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary."

The defense chief also said he would travel to Islamabad soon, but he did not provide details.

Mattis was testifying alongside Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford in their second hearing of the day on U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

In a speech in August outlining the administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan, Trump said the United States would put additional pressure on Islamabad to crack down on safe havens for extremists within its borders, although he did not specify what actions might be taken.

New agencies have reported that measures being discussed include potentially downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally.

Asked during the hearing whether that option was being discussed, Mattis replied, "I am sure it will be."

Pakistan has regularly denied it provides safe havens to extremist groups.

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington said late on October 3 that Islamabad had achieved success in counterterrorism operations inside Pakistan.

"However, unless the same level of success is achieved in [Afghanistan], long lasting-peace in the region will remain out of reach," the embassy said in a statement.

Breaking The Stalemate

The United States is planning to send about 3,000 additional troops to its 11,000 already in Afghanistan to aid Kabul’s fight against the resurgent Taliban, 16 years after the U.S.-led invasion drove the militants from power.

A U.S. report found this year that the Taliban controls or contests control of about 40 percent of the country, and security forces are also fighting against militants affiliated with the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

Dunford told senators the new U.S. strategy would cost an additional $1.1 billion a year, bringing annual the cost to about $12.5 billion.

He added that the situation in Afghanistan was currently a stalemate.

"We're not at a point where we can bring a successful political solution to the war," he said.

Nevertheless, Mattis told the Senate committee that "based on intelligence-community analysis and my own evaluation" a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would be "to our ultimate peril."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and The Hill
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