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Ghani, U.S. Allies Welcome Trump's Commitment In Afghanistan


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attends Afghan Independence Day celebrations in Kabul on August 19.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has welcomed the United States' “enduring commitment" in Afghanistan after U.S. President Donald Trump outlined a strategy for the war-wracked country.

In an August 22 statement, Ghani thanked Trump and the American people for supporting “our joint struggle to rid the region [of] the threat of terrorism.”

“The U.S.-Afghan partnership is stronger than ever," he added.

During his first formal address to the nation on August 21, Trump backtracked from his campaign pledge to end America's longest war as he appeared to commit the United States to an open-ended conflict in Afghanistan.

However, he sidestepped an announcement on U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan, saying he would not "talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Trump’s “new, conditions-based approach to Afghanistan and the region.”

"Our aim remains to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who would attack our own countries," he said in a statement.

Since peaking at about 100,000 troops in 2010-11, the U.S. force in Afghanistan has diminished. The United States currently maintains 8,400 troops there -- a cap set last year by then-President Barack Obama.

About 5,000 non-U.S. NATO forces are also still in the country, but Britain and other European allies have pledged additional contributions to the alliance’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

"The U.S. commitment is very welcome," British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in a statement, adding that it is "in all our interests that Afghanistan become more prosperous and safer.”

In his speech, Trump warned that Washington will no longer tolerate Pakistan offering "safe havens" to extremist groups such as the Afghan Taliban, a claim Islamabad denies.

The U.S. president also said he wanted to "further develop its strategic partnership” with Pakistan's archrival, India, and get New Delhi to "help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development."

India, one of Kabul's closest allies, had spent billions on aid and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.

The Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it welcomed Trump's "determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges faced by Afghanistan and in confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists" -- without naming Pakistan.

It also reaffirmed New Delhi’s policy of supporting the government and the people of Afghanistan in their efforts “to bring peace, security, stability and prosperity in their country."

Asked about Trump's speech, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying defended Beijing’s ally Pakistan, saying it has made "great sacrifices" and "important contributions" in the fight against terrorism.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 after invoking NATO's Article Five clause on collective self-defense following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The U.S.-led campaign overthrew the Islamist Taliban government, which was hosting Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his group's training camps.

But U.S. forces have remained bogged down there through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Obama, and now Trump.

A U.S. report found earlier this year that the Taliban controls or contests control of about 40 percent of the country.

U.S. military and intelligence officials are concerned that a withdrawal or reduced presence of U.S. forces would give the Taliban the upper hand in the current standoff and allow Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants to use Afghanistan as a base for plotting attacks on the United States and its allies.

The strategy in Afghanistan was complicated by internal differences over whether the United States should take a harder line toward Pakistan for failing to shut down alleged Afghan Taliban sanctuaries and arrest Afghan extremist leaders.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

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