Mat­tis ar­rives in Afghanistan as rock­ets hit Kabul airport

U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis visit comes after U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced a new strat­egy for Afghanistan, promis­ing a steppedup mil­i­tary cam­paign against Tal­iban in­sur­gents who have gained ground

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

KABUL: U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis vis­ited Kabul on Wed­nes­day to pledge sup­port for the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani, with the pre­car­i­ous se­cu­rity in the Afghan cap­i­tal un­der­lined by a rocket at­tack on the airport hours after he touched down.

Sought sup­port

Ar­riv­ing from In­dia, where he sought sup­port for the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new South Asia se­cu­rity plan, Mat­tis said the United States was de­ter­mined not to al­low “a mer­ci­less en­emy to kill its way to power”.

Promis­ing a more “holis­tic” ap- proach with­out fixed timeta­bles and in­volv­ing other coun­tries in the re­gion, in­clud­ing Pak­istan, he said the Tal­iban would have to learn they could not de­feat the gov­ern­ment.

“I want to re­in­force to the Tal­iban that the only path to peace and po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy for them is through a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment,” Mat­tis told a joint news con­fer­ence with Ghani and NATO Se­cre- tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg.

The visit comes after U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced a new strat­egy for Afghanistan, promis­ing a stepped-up mil­i­tary cam­paign against Tal­iban in­sur­gents who have gained ground as they seek to reestab­lish Is­lamic law after their 2001 ouster.

But a rocket at­tack on Kabul airport that in­jured five civil­ians and was claimed by both IS and Tal­iban in­sur­gents high­lighted the rebels’ abil­ity to strike the Western­backed gov­ern­ment.

Fight­ers holed up in a nearby build­ing con­tin­ued to re­sist se­cu­rity forces for hours, a spokesman for the interior min­is­ter said.

Mat­tis con­demned the at­tack as a “crim­i­nal act by ter­ror­ists”, adding that it was a “clas­sic def­i­ni­tion of what the Tal­iban are up to here now”.

There are now about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as part of the 13,500-strong NATO-led Res­o­lute Sup­port mis­sion ad­vis­ing and train­ing Afghan forces as well as a sep­a­rate coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sion, tar­get­ing IS and Al Qaeda.

As part of the new strat­egy, which will give U.S. com­man­ders greater free­dom to use Amer­i­can fire­power against the Tal­iban, Mat­tis has said the United States will send an ad­di­tional 3,000 troops to help train Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

It will also make greater use of its air power to sup­port Afghan forces and strike the Tal­iban, a strat­egy that car­ries the risk of an in­crease in civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

“I don’t want to tell the en­emy ex­actly what we are do­ing but the whole point is to make cer­tain we have a com­pelling bat­tle­field ad­van­tage over any­thing the Tal­iban tries to mass against your forces,” he said.

Mat­tis said U.S. forces would do “ev­ery­thing hu­manly pos­si­ble” to limit civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, which fu­elled bit­ter dis­putes be­tween Wash­ing­ton and the gov­ern­ment of for­mer pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai.

Trump has said he ex­pects NATO al­lies to step up con­tri­bu­tions of both troops and fund­ing to the Afghanistan mis­sion, and Stoltenberg said the cred­i­bil­ity of the in­ter­na­tional al­liance de­pended on main­tain­ing its sup­port.

“We know the cost of stay­ing in Afghanistan,” he said. “But the cost of leav­ing would be higher. If NATO forces leave too soon, there is a risk Afghanistan may re­turn to a state of chaos and once again be­come a safe haven for in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism.”

- Res­o­lute Sup­port Mis­sion/Hand­out via Reuters

WARM WEL­COME: U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis ar­rives at Res­o­lute Sup­port Mis­sion head­quar­ters in Kabul, Afghanistan on Septem­ber 27, 2017.

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