–US State Dept spokesperson says ‘Pakistan has taken positive steps in the right direction’
WASHINGTON: US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert on Tuesday said that Pakistan has taken positive steps in the right direction in the crackdown on terrorist groups, as the Pentagon ruled out hot pursuit of Taliban militants into Pakistan.
During a press briefing in Washington, Nauert also said that the meeting between US Vice President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbas last week in Washington discussed US’ South Asia strategy.
The spokesperson further said that Pakistan can play a critical role in bringing Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table.
Meanwhile, Pentagon official Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews told Pajhwok Afghan News, “Say, for example, we have troops in contact and then the Taliban forces go across the border. They are clearly inside Pakistan then. There’s no change with regards to respecting the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan.”
Andrews reiterated that they would not be entering Pakistan, but there can be exceptions. It was not going to be a routine operation, it’s not going to be normal day-to-day operational rules of engagement, the spokesperson stated.
“To be clear, US military authorities are within the borders of Afghanistan only. We have no authority to go into Pakistan. If there is a way to get that authority, but that would certainly be the exception and not the norm,” a spokesperson for the Department of Defense said.
“If the Taliban reside in Pakistan and we are able to provide safety and support and to help secure districts and provinces within Afghanistan, I think that is a tradeoff that we’re willing to make. Because it’s not necessarily about these people over in Pakistan, it is about the Afghan people,” Andrews said.
“And what happens in Pakistan, we can’t have any control on that. I certainly think that in the east, in the southeast, we have more, whether it’s close air support, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. We have certainly put more combat enablers there to limit the effect of those groups,” he further added.
Andrews further added that the US will focus on regaining the provinces that the Taliban claimed or contested, adding that there was enough work to be done inside Afghanistan to reduce their influence and provide more security to the citizens.
The US will, however, expect Pakistan to ensure that there are no sanctuaries where the Taliban or others could reside, “that’s something that Pakistan is going to have to do,” he added.
Andrews said the focus of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ trip to Afghanistan last week was to review progress on the South Asia Policy and see the preparedness of the Afghan security forces for the upcoming fighting season. “We are hopeful Pakistan will take action because not only do we feel it is going to serve Afghanistan, but it’s going to help protect Pakistan, India and the entire region,” he argued.
Last week, DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor said that sanctuaries of all terrorist groups, including the Haqqani network, have been eliminated from Pakistan’s soil.
“Pakistan has paid a huge price in this campaign, including losing over 75,000 lives and bearing a loss of more than $123 billion to the national exchequer,” he said while speaking to Gulf News.
The DG ISPR said the operation Radd-ul-Fasaad has been launched to eliminate the remaining disorganised residual presence of militants. The recent military offensives against the terrorists have visibly reduced the level of violence throughout the country, he added.
Major General Ghafoor said that over 200,000 Pakistani troops have been deployed along the Pak-Afghan border in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). He said Pakistan has also started to fence the entire 2,611km length of Pak-Afghan border and construction of new posts along the border to deny free cross-border movement of terrorists.