WASHINGTON: Top US defence officials have acknowledged sacrifices rendered by Pakistani troops in fighting terrorism and called for a better cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan to manage the rugged border region between the two countries.
At a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Defence James Mattis and Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen Joseph Dunford said that Pakistani troops had suffered severe losses in the border region.
Gen Dunford also acknowledged that Pakistani forces had done a lot in the border area with Afghanistan and suffered significant casualties.
He, however, noted lack of cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan in managing the border area, saying Pakistan and the United States had better degree of cooperation and visibility along the rugged border area.
“When we were actually doing that, we had a better degree of cooperation along the border, we had a better visibility – that wasn’t replaced by effective Afghan-Pakistan cooperation,” Gen Dunford said and added,”That has to be one of the key elements of our success, moving forward.”
He said in his judgement “what we need is an effective bilateral relation between Pakistan and Afghanistan to manage the border area.” There had been a broad framework on the border cooperation during the last three-four years, but there had not been a satisfactory progress made, he added.
The US Joint Chief of Staff said they had been encouraged by the recent visit of Pakistan’s army chief to Kabul where he had good meetings with the Afghan leadership. US officials were also engaged in talks. There was now a commitment to address the issues and do better coordination along the border area, he added.
Gen Dunford agreed with the NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen John W. Nicholson, that the effort in the country was stalemated and the coalition forces were not winning the war. The international efforts have suffered after the NATO Resolute Support mission by the International Security Assistance Force transitioned to an advisory effort in January, 2015.
“Since January 2015, we have advised and accompanied Afghan special operations units at the tactical level, but our advisory effort for conventional forces has generally been limited to the Afghan corps and institutional level,” Gen Dunford said.
“My military assessment is that we drew down our advisory effort and combat support for the Afghan forces too far and too fast,,, as a result, the Taliban expanded territorial and population control and inflicted significant casualties on the Afghan army and police, while the campaign lost momentum.”
Responding to a question, Gen Dunford said military objectives in Afghanistan included “defeating ISIS and al-Qaida in Afghanistan and ensuring other terrorist groups were unable to launch attacks against the homeland, US citizens or our allies; further developing Afghan forces that were capable of managing residual violence with limited international support; supporting President Ghani’s effort to secure key population and economic centers; and providing an enduring counterterrorism partnership with Afghanistan to protect our shared interests in South Asia.”
Earlier, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain criticized the lack of information on the new Afghan strategy by President Trump, saying that was totally unacceptable. He said in future, the committee needed regular flow of information.
He also stated that while the strategy spoke of political reconciliation in Afghanistan, it lacked details about any such political settlement. Secretary Mattis stated that the goal was to stabilize Afghanistan through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.