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Top US general in Afghanistan: No change in Pakistan’s behavior

The commander of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, US Army Gen. John Nicholson, said Thursday that Pakistan had not changed its behavior since President Donald Trump announced his new policy for Afghanistan and the wider region, a policy that specifically called on Pakistan to do more.

“No, I haven’t seen any change yet in their behavior,” Nicholson told reporters following a meeting of the NATO defense ministers in Brussels when asked whether he had seen any increased cooperation from Pakistan with regards to eliminating Taliban sanctuaries.

“You’ve heard the public statements from President Trump, from (Defense Secretary James) Mattis, from (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford) from (Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson, so we are engaging at the very highest levels with the Pakistanis to work together with them against these terrorists that are undermining the stability of the entire region,” Nicholson added.

“Pakistan has fought hard and suffered heavily against those terrorists focused on its government and now we are asking them to focus on the terrorists that are attacking Afghanistan and attacking the coalition,”

“The United States has been very clear about the direction we want to go and we hope to see some change in the coming weeks and months.” Mattis told reporters at the ministerial meeting Thursday that the Trump administration was enlisting the international community to help encourage Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban via a series of incentives and disincentives.

“Obviously, there are ways we can reward Pakistan and there are ways we can ensure they are held to account,” Mattis said.

“We are going to work with Pakistan and make this work,” he added.

Last month, Trump praised Pakistan for its role in helping recover US citizen Caitlan Coleman and her family who had been held by the Haqqani network, a branch of the Taliban.

“The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” Trump said following their recovery. Earlier on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that 27 non-US members of the coalition in Afghanistan had committed to increase their troop numbers in Afghanistan to help train and advise the Afghan security services.

The plan is to increase the size of the NATO mission in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 16,000 Stoltenberg said, with the goal of having half of those forces come from countries other than the US.

These reinforcements will join the approximately 3,000 additional US troops that were ordered to Afghanistan as part of Trump’s new strategy. Those US troops will support both the NATO mission and a US counterterrorism mission. The US currently has about 14,000 troops in the country alongside approximately 6,000 from other nations.

But despite those additional allied contributions, US military commanders said this week that the coalition still needed more troops to help train and advise the Afghan security forces.

US commanders are specifically looking for allies to provide troops to help train Afghans in their officer academies and military specialization schools, freeing US troops to go out into the field and advise Afghan soldiers at the brigade and battalion levels, where the US advisers can provide support and call in airstrikes to assist Afghan forces on the front line. “We need the allies to fill these billets and especially things like the schooling system so that Americans can do the things that only Americans can do,” Nicholson told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the new authorities and troops allowing US forces to advise closer to the fight.

But while US military officials acknowledge that pledges from allies fell short of the stated requirement they also said that efforts are ongoing to increase the number of allied commitments, expressing optimism that countries will provide more forces in the near future.

Some countries will require parliamentary approval for any troop increase, delaying a possible decision on additional military commitments.

“It’s not a done deal yet, we are still talking to nations,” Gen. Curtis Scaparotti, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander-Europe, told a group of reporters on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting. (CNN)

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