LAHORE - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday spoke with Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani to discuss how they can help in shaping President Donald Trump’s new South Asia strategy.
Trump was set to announce America’s new strategy in Afghanistan, amid reports that his administration could be mulling a greater role for both India and Pakistan in ending the brutal and costly conflict.
He will make his first prime-time broadcast to the nation as president today (Tuesday) to unveil his new plan after a lengthy period of deliberations to end nearly 16 years long war in Afghanistan.
Notable to the President’s forthcoming remarks to the nation on South Asia, the Secretary of State spoke over the phone with Pakistani prime minister and Indian and Afghan foreign ministers, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.
“The topic was how the United States would like to work with each country to stabilise South Asia through a new, integrated regional strategy,” she said.
On the other hand, Taliban insurgents overran the government headquarters of a district in northern Afghanistan on Monday, the latest in a string of losses for Kabul.
The headquarters in Khamab District in the province of Jawzjan was taken by insurgents on Monday morning, said the spokesman for the Afghan National Army’s commando units, Ahmad Jawid Salim, who said Afghan forces planned to recapture it. The Taliban also said on their website that they had taken the district.
It was the sixth place in Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban in the past month — five districts and a strategic valley — even as casualties and armed clashes have risen to their highest levels of the war. On an average day, 31 members of the Afghan national security forces are killed, as well as nine civilians, according to data from a variety of official sources. Taliban casualties are not known.
Such numbers underline the challenge facing Trump as he prepares to address the American public about the war on Monday night. He is expected to announce an increase in the number of United States troops being sent to Afghanistan, in line with previous requests by his generals, who have asked for several thousand more. That would still make the American military presence far smaller than at its peak of 100,000 soldiers under President Barack Obama.
The president is expected to green light the deployment of around 4,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan and put new pressure on nearby Pakistan to stop giving safe haven to terrorists. The US president is considering several possibilities to pressure Pakistan into stepping up the fight against terrorism, including reducing aid, taking away its status as a non-NATO ally, and threatening to name Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Taliban now control or dominate 48 of the country’s roughly 400 administrative areas, the most they have held since being ousted from power in 2001, based on data provided by the United States military to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The inspector general’s last quarterly report to Congress listed 45 such districts, based on data through the end of June, and the Taliban have made a net gain of three districts since then.