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After Kabul wedding massacre, Donald Trump mulls ‘significant’ residual force in Afghanistan

A statement posted by Islamic State on a lined site said the attack on the wedding party on the Afghanistan’s capital Kabul was carried out by a Pakistani member of the outfit.

world Updated: Aug 19, 2019 11:21 IST

Washington
An Afghan worker is seen at the wedding hall after a blast in Kabul on Sunday.
An Afghan worker is seen at the wedding hall after a blast in Kabul on Sunday. (Reuters Photo )
         

Just hours after a Pakistani suicide bomber blew himself up at a wedding in Kabul killing at least 63 people, US President Donald Trump indicated he might leave behind a “significant” presence in Afghanistan under a peace deal saying the country has been a “nest” for mounting attacks against the United States.

“I think it’s very important that we continue intelligence there, in all cases, because it is somewhat of a nest for hitting us,” Trump told reporters. He was probably referring — for “intelligence” — to counter-terrorism operations that the US has said will be a significant factor in any peace negotiation or deal impacting its military presence.

In a nod to the ongoing fierce debate in the administration on withdrawal of forces, and, most importantly, on the size of the cuts, the US president said, “And the case also is that we’re going to be leaving very significant intelligence behind for just the reasons I stated.”

The US has around 14,500 troops in Afghanistan currently and the president indicated it’s down to 13,000. “And we’ll be bringing it down a little bit more, and then we’ll decide whether or not we’ll be staying longer or not,” Trump said.

India, which has significant interests and stakes in Afghanistan, acknowledges American desperation to get out of what has become its longest war lasting 18 years now, but it also wants the US to leave behind a military sizeable enough to prevent extremist and terrorist elements active there, all of them backed by Pakistan, to regain their foothold.

A statement posted by Islamic State on a lined site said the attack on the wedding party on the Afghan capital was carried out by a Pakistani member of the outfit. The Washington Post identified the man as Abu Asim who the outfit said had attacked a gathering of ­“rejecter polytheists”, as the Sunni-dominated terrorist outfit called Shiite Muslims, a minority sect in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which, however, is the dominant Islamic strain in nearby Iran.

Asim’s involvement in the attack brings back into focus Pakistan’s elaborate structure of support for terrorists that appears to be active despite repeated claims from the Pakistani government — including prime minister Imran Khan’s “naya Pakistan” — of having dismantled it as demanded by the US, which has put unprecedented pressure on Islamabad, suspending all security-related aid demanding sustained and verifiable actions against terrorists operating from its soil.

“We’re there for one reason: We don’t want that to be a laboratory,” Trump said in response to a question about the possible impact of the wedding massacre on ongoing peace talks and US withdrawal of troops.

“It can’t be a laboratory for terror. And we’ve stopped that, and we have a very, very good view. I mean, some things are going to be announced over the next couple of weeks as to what happened, who’s been taken out. A lot of people have been taken out that were very bad -- both ISIS and al Qaeda.”

President Trump is said to be in hurry to end the war in Afghanistan and wants to pull out troops totally or in parts but in time to portray it as a promise-made-promise-kept achievement for his 2020 re-election bid.

Critics have warned against a complete withdrawal citing Iraq which fell into chaos and then into the hands of the Islamic State after a precipitate pullout ordered by then-president Barack Obama in 2011.

First Published: Aug 19, 2019 11:15 IST