WASHINGTON - With the American troops set to end their combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of this year, the United States has said it would urge the new leadership in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to work towards promoting “greater stability and security” in the region.
“That’s certainly something we’re going to pursue,” a senior administration official told reporters in a conference call.
The official also noted that the regional dynamics matter “considerably to future stability in Afghanistan.”
In a statement on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan would free up resources to confront an emerging terrorist threat stretching from the Middle East to Africa — a strategy he plans to detail in a commencement address on Wednesday at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. People have been wondering how “the region is going to respond in kind as the international community draws down in Afghanistan,” the senior administration official said as “regional dynamics, particularly with regards to their proxies, matters considerably to future stability in Afghanistan.” “But in recent and operational terms, the attack against the Indian Consulate in Herat raised that very question,” he said.
However, the US was “hopeful that the initial indication between both Islamabad and New Delhi is a positive one”, taking note of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s presence at his Indian counterpart’s swearing-in.
Nawaz Sharif’s “first such visit in many years” was “reminiscent of the last time there was significant progress” between the two countries when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power during Nawaz Sharif’s previous term as Prime Minister in the late ‘90s, the official said. “They made progress along lines that looked very much like what we have now,” he said. “So we’re cautiously hopeful that that could be a positive indicator, but we’re also mindful that this will be very important to the dynamic going forward,” the official said.
The administration official also said the threat from al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been significantly addressed through the efforts to dismantle the militant networks leadership in that part of the world. “That does not mean that there are no traces of al Qaeda. Of course, there continues to be threats emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the official said.
“But we do believe that we have struck significant blows against al Qaeda’s leadership,” said the official, whose remarks came as the US President announced that the US will have 9,800 troops in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2015 and complete withdrawn by the end of 2016. The official, however, clarified that the US will continue to engage in counter-terrorism operations.
“However, we do want to maintain a counter-terrorism capability precisely because we don’t want al Qaeda to regenerate. We don’t want there to be significantly enhanced space for them to operate. That means we’re going to continue our counter-terrorism operations in the region,” the official said. It also means that we’re going to train Afghan National Security Forces to help us in mitigating that threat, the senior administration official told reporters.
The official said that the US had remained very focused in the last several months at improving the US-Pakistan relationship and putting it on a firmer footing as it relates to counterterrorism, but also as it relates to our broader relationship. “And with a new leader in Pakistan, we believe we make good progress in that regard,” he said.
“You’ve seen the Pakistanis, for instance, go on the offensive in certain areas against the extremist groups within their borders. So part of this long-term solution, again, is going to be a situation where the United States does not assume the burden of going after all of these terrorist groups, but rather we’re working with partners like both Afghanistan and Pakistan, that they’re working on both sides of that border to root out extremist elements.
And, again, I think we’ve seen a composite of trends from Pakistan in that regard.”
The official said the US believes that the long-term solution towards Afghan security is not US forces.
“It is Afghan forces; and that we’ve trained and equipped an Afghan National Security Force that needs to be responsible for securing their country; that this has never been a situation where the United States was signing on to provide security in Afghanistan indefinitely. We have always been very clear that this was a year of transition that our combat mission would come to an end,” he said.
“Ultimately, we believe and have confidence that the Afghan National Security Forces can be in the lead and can mitigate that violence and can provide for that security.”
It doesn’t mean it will be perfect security, but it does mean that the Afghan National Security Forces, after years of training and assistance, are prepared to step forward, he added.
“So we will continue to address that al Qaeda threat through our counter-terrorism efforts and through our partnership with the Afghans. With respect to the Taliban, I think that is a challenge that the Afghan National Security Forces will continue to take on. And I’d note that they already have done so over the course of the last year when they have been in the lead for combat operations,” the official said.
On the Sharif-Modi meeting, the administration official said the United States has said it will continue to encourage Pakistan and India to pursue dialogue that reduces tensions.
“I think we’ve seen a constructive tone set from the very beginning by Prime Minister Modi and by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was one of the first leaders to speak to Prime Minister Modi after his victory in the elections,” he said.
“We always encourage India and Pakistan to pursue dialogue that can reduce tension. We believe that that is in the interest of the entire region. And so we’ll continue to encourage that,” the official said.