‘Afghan strategy review is hard because of Pakistan,’ admits US defence secretary James Mattis

James mattis

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Donald Trump administration is considering becoming more hardline towards Pakistan for its inaction on terror.
  • The US’s Afghanistan strategy review has to be “wrapped into a regional context” that involves Pakistan, said Mattis.
  •  ‘Seriously, this is hard’, said Mattis about developing a regional strategy.

NEW DELHI: The ongoing review of the US’s Afghanistan strategy is “hard” because it has to be “wrapped into a regional context” that involves Pakistan, acknowledged US defence secretary James Mattis, in an extraordinarily candid interaction with the media recently.

“Welcome to strategy. Seriously, this is hard”, said Mattis at a press briefing late Friday, when he was asked why the strategy review is taking so long.

When he was specifically asked whether it is “the diplomatic angle…the Pakistan angle” that was complicating matters, he acknowledged it is.

“The strategy, you’re right to say that strategy is wrapping all that into a regional context and you know, what is the main effort — that sort of thing — and what is a supporting effort,” was Mattis’s answer to the Pakistan question.

It is, by now, well known that the Donald Trump administration is considering becoming more hardline towards Pakistan for its inaction on terror safe havenswithin its borders.

On Saturday, PTI reported that the US house of representatives has voted for three legislative amendments to impose tougher conditions for reimbursement of defence funding to Pakistan. They want to make such funding conditional on Islamabad showing satisfactory progress in the fight against terrorism.

All the three legislative amendments to the $651 billion National Defence Authorisation Act 2018 were adopted by a voice vote by the lower house of the US congress on Friday. After the vote, Congressman Ted Poe tweeted:

The US defense secretary will have to certify that Pakistan is not providing military, financial, or logistical support to any individuals designated by the U.S. as a terrorist operating in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Kabul has time and again talked of terror safe havens in Pakistan, including the Haqqani network, inciting and carrying out terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. It has said that these forces in Pakistan are what are hindering the peace process in the country.

So, while the US is contemplating more boots on the ground in Afghanistan – in an attempt to end the conflict it initiated post 9/11 – it also has to figure out how to deal with its ‘ally’ Pakistan in its regional strategy.

In his interaction with reporters, while elaborating on why strategy was so “hard”, Mattis went so far as to say “there’s a reason we’ve gotten into some wars in our nation’s history and didn’t know how to end them.” Clearly, he meant the Afghanistan situation is one such “war”.

“This is hard work, and anyone who says otherwise is someone who has not had to either deal with it, or deal with the consequences of the decisions they made. It is hard work,” said the unusually candid Mattis.

The media has been speculating that the Trump administration may send an additional 4,000-5,000 troops to Afghanistan.

When asked about that, Mattis said they “actually” haven’t figured that out yet and hinted at squabbles on the issue with the US state department.

“So, no, it’s not finalized yet….because part of it (the decision on troop numbers) has to do with what is (the department of) state’s level of — or their perspective of the way ahead, and so what do we need to do along a line of effort that supports them,” Mattis said.

The speculation about 4,000-5,000 additional troops “may” turn out to be correct, though.

“I know everyone’s batted around numbers, and they may turn out to be right. But I’m not giving it any credence right now,” Mattis said, adding that it depends on a lot of factors.

 “Because that also involves, perhaps, changing somewhat what the troops on the ground are doing right now, you know, as we make certain we align — we have a new strategy and align everything,” Mattis added.
In the meanwhile, CNN reported that Trump and his national security team are likely to meet next week to discuss their strategy on their relationship with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, said ANI.

 

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