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'Afghan-Pakistan epicentre of jihad'

world Updated: Oct 06, 2009 15:58 IST
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Calling the Afghan-Pakistan border as the "modern epicentre of jihad", the US has made it clear that it's not leaving Afghanistan as a Taliban takeover of the country would empower the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

"The thing to remember about Afghanistan is that country and particularly the Afghan-Pakistan border is the modern epicentre of jihad," Secretary of Defence Robert Gates said at a forum sponsored by the George Washington University Monday.

"They now have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower which more than anything would empower their message and... improve their ability to plan operations," he said in a rare joint appearance with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But he said he doesn't "know whether Al Qaeda would move its headquarters" back into Afghanistan, but if the Taliban takes control of parts of Afghanistan, it would provide "added space" or strategic depth for Al Qaeda.

Both Gates and Clinton said the US was committed to a regional strategy to build long-standing relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan, insisting President Barack Obama's deliberate approach to set the right objectives and policies for Afghanistan was necessary and proper.

The Taliban insurgency currently has the momentum in Afghanistan, Gates said, adding that a Taliban takeover of the country would empower the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

"Because of our inability and the inability, frankly, of our allies to put enough troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now," he said

Gates made clear that no matter what President Barack Obama decides on immediate troop levels, the US will remain in Afghanistan to continue efforts to dismantle terrorist organisations and help with economic development and nation building.

"We're not leaving Afghanistan," he declared, adding: "There should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to remain in Afghanistan and to continue to build a relationship of partnership and trust with the Pakistanis. That's long term. That's a strategic objective of the United States."

Clinton said a regional approach supporting both Afghanistan and Pakistan would help achieve the US goals of defeating terrorists and protecting America and its allies around the world.

"The clear path forward is for us to underscore to the Pakistanis that we're not going to turn our back on them as we did before," Gates said. "Their worry is what happens in the future."