US General John Nicholson calls for review of relationship with Pakistan

10 Feb, 2017 11:53 am

WASHINGTON – The top US commander in Afghanistan said on Thursday that there was a need for a “holistic review” of the relationship with Pakistan, potentially opening the door for a new approach to one of America’s most vexing alliances.

Experts said the remarks by Army General John Nicholson, who leads U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, could signal a harsher policy toward Pakistan under President Donald Trump’s administration.

However, they warned that such an approach could be a high-risk strategy that could threaten the long-term stability of the region.

“Our complex relationship with Pakistan is best assessed through a holistic review,” Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He added that ties with Pakistan would be a priority in his discussions with US Defense Secretary James Mattis and the White House, which has given little details on its strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The top US commander in Afghanistan said he needs several thousand more international troops in order to break a stalemate in the long war with Taliban insurgents, signaling the matter may soon be put before President Donald Trump.

Army General John Nicholson, who leads US and international forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged Taliban gains over the past year, when deployed US forces were reduced even as security deteriorated.

Nicholson said he still had enough US troops to carry out counter terrorism missions against al Qaeda and other militant targets, but not enough to properly advise Afghan forces on the ground.

“We have a shortfall of a few thousand,” Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He added that those forces could both be drawn from the United States and from allies. Still, any increase of several thousand troops would leave American forces in Afghanistan well below their 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops.

Nicholson noted that Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, would soon speak with allies and suggested Mattis might visit Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

That could help Mattis prepare his own recommendation to the Republican president, who has sharply criticized past U.S. administrations for their handling of conflicts in the Muslim world but has also pledged to eradicate militant Islamists around the globe.

Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, was often criticized by Republicans in Congress for focusing too much on driving down U.S. troop numbers in an attempt to force Afghan soldiers to become more self-sufficient.

“For too long our strategy in Afghanistan has been: Don’t lose,” said Senator John McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee.

Asked at one point whether a Trump administration might be more open to deciding on things like US troop numbers based on concrete objectives and conditions on the ground, Nicholson responded: “Yes, sir.” –Reuters


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