WASHINGTON: U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday the United States would try “one more time” to work with Pakistan in Afghanistan before President Donald Trump would turn to options to address Islamabad’s alleged support for militant groups.
Relations between the two countries have been frayed over the past decade. While officials have long questioned the role Pakistan has played in Afghanistan, the comments by Mattis are likely to cause concern in Islamabad and within the Pakistan military.
“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, the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary,” Mattis said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, as reported by the Reuters.
Mattis added that he would be traveling to Islamabad soon, but did not give more details.
Reuters first reported that possible Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding U.S. drone strikes and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally.
When asked by a lawmaker whether revoking Pakistan’s major non-NATO ally status was amongst the options being considered to deal with Islamabad, Mattis said: “I am sure it will be.”
The Pakistan embassy in Washington said Islamabad had achieved success in counter-terrorism operations in its country.
“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.
Trump tirade against Pakistan
In its scathing address particularly for allies Afghanistan and Pakistan on August 22, Donald Trump cleared the way for the deployment of thousands more US troops to Afghanistan , backtracking from his promise to rapidly end America’s longest war, while pillorying Pakistan for offering safe haven to “agents of chaos.”
In his first formal address to the nation as commander-in-chief, Trump discarded his previous criticism of the 16-year-old war as a waste of time and money, admitting things looked different from “behind the desk in the Oval Office.”
“My instinct was to pull out,” Trump said as he spoke of his frustration with a war that has killed thousands of US troops and cost US taxpayers trillions of dollars.
But following months of deliberation, Trump said he had concluded “the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable” leaving a “vacuum” that terrorists “would instantly fill.”
Trump indicated that single-minded approach would extend to US relations with troubled ally Pakistan, which consecutive US administrations have criticized for links with the Taliban and for harboring leading militants.
“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations,” he said warning that vital aid could be cut.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said. “That will have to change and that will change immediately.”
U.S. officials said that the United States will send about 3,500 additional troops to Afghanistan.
Dunford said that the current cost for the United States in Afghanistan was about $12.5 billion a year, and the new strategy would cost an additional $1.1 billion.