Pakistan plays important role in Afghan peace process: US Defense Secretary

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Pakistan has an important role to play in the ongoing Afghan peace process, the Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told lawmakers Wednesday with another top American general opposing any move to withdraw troops from the war-torn country.

General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with Shanahan during a Senate Committee hearing on the country's defense budget for the fiscal year 2020 beginning October 1, when Senator Lindsay Graham asked a question on the ongoing Afghan peace process.

"It's in our national security interest to have a counterterrorism platform. Do you agree that we'll never get a peaceful resolution until Pakistan denies the Taliban's safe haven?" Graham asked during the Congressional hearing.

"I believe Pakistan plays an important role," Shanahan said in response.

"I do (agree), senator," Dunford said.

Responding to a question, Shanahan agreed ISISK is getting larger, not smaller in Afghanistan and a counterterrorism platform is still required in the war-torn country.

Shanahan said the current South Asia strategy of President Trump offers the best chance for peace in Afghanistan. "Our current policy remains the South Asia strategy. Our best chance for peace, and this is probably the best in 40 years, is taking place right now. I would say our policy is to fight and talk. We're fighting the Taliban to pressure them into a reduction in violence," he said.

The United States is making progress on its South Asia policy, he said.

"Do you anticipate US forces coming home from Afghanistan anytime soon, or are we looking at an indefinite garrison type situation? How would you explain our current policy and the conditions for US withdrawal for the American people in a clear and simple way?" Senator Tom Udall asked.

General Dunford insisted that the US policy should be to put pressure on terrorist groups that pose threat to the US. "It's my judgment today, based on the threat from South Asia, that we need to continue to put pressure on those terrorist groups or they'll pose a threat to the United States," he said.

"I know it's frustrating to you and the American people for us to be there for such a long period of time. It's just my judgment right now that the conditions for a complete withdrawal aren't there," he said.

"The conditions for continuing to decrease our presence in the region as we have and increase the responsibility of, in this case, the Afghan forces to provide security for themselves, I think we can expect that to happen," he added.

"While I'm not anything other than realistic about the current negotiations we have and the peace process, it is the first time in many, many years where we've had some opportunity now to pursue a peaceful resolution to the war in Afghanistan. And at the end of the day, I don't believe there is a military solution, and I think will need to maintain a counterterrorism presence as long as an insurgency continues in Afghanistan," Dunford said.

Dunford said that there are about 20 groups in the region that he would describe as violent extremist groups. A handful of those groups have clearly demonstrated the intent to attack the homeland and to attack American citizens. The pressure that US's counterterrorism efforts have put on those groups over the last years have prevented another 9/11, he noted.

"Difficult to prove, but from the time I've spent Afghanistan -- I have been a commander there -- I am confident, if you want to think about this in terms of term insurance, once you stop paying the premium, you no longer have insurance. What we are doing in Afghanistan today, in my judgment, is a commensurate level of effort to threat," Dunford told the lawmakers.

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