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More US troops to go to Afghanistan

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Trump criticises Pakistan and leaves door open to a deal with Taleban

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump cleared the way for the deployment of more US troops to Afghanistan on Monday, backtracking from his promise to rapidly end America's longest war, while pillorying ally Pakistan for offering safe haven to "agents of chaos".

In his first formal address to the nation as commander-in-chief, Mr Trump discarded his previous criticism of the 16-year-old war as a waste of time and money, admitting things looked different from the Oval Office.

After months of deliberation, Mr Trump said he had concluded "the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable", leaving a "vacuum" terrorists "would instantly fill".

While he refused to offer detailed numbers, senior White House officials said Mr Trump had already authorised his defence secretary to deploy up to 3,900 more troops there.

Mr Trump warned that the approach would now be more pragmatic than idealistic. Security assistance to Afghanistan was "not a blank check" he said.

"We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists."

The US has grown increasingly weary of the conflict that began in October 2001 as a hunt for the 9/11 attackers but has turned into a vexed effort to keep Afghanistan's corruption-hindered democracy alive amid a brutal Taleban insurgency.


The Islamist group later vowed it would make the country "a graveyard" for the US and would continue its "jihad" as long as US troops remained in the country.

Mr Trump also indicated that a single-minded approach would extend to US tieswith Pakistan, which consecutive US administrations have criticised for links with the Taleban and for harbouring leading terrorists - like Osama bin Laden.

"We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the terrorists that we are fighting," he said, warning that vital aid could be cut.

"That will have to change and that will change immediately."

Mr Trump for the first time also left the door open to a political deal with the Taleban.

"Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taleban in Afghanistan," he said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went further, saying the US would "stand ready to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taleban without preconditions".

The Trump administration had promised a new Afghan plan by mid-July, but Mr Trump was said to be dissatisfied by initial proposals to deploy a few thousand more troops.

His new policy will raise questions about what, if anything, can be achieved by making further deployments, or repeating the demands of previous administrations in more forceful terms. - AFP

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