‘No Indian boots on the ground in Afghanistan’

VISIT: Jim Mattis (second left) inspects an honour
guard as Nirmala Sitharaman
looks on in New Delhi
VISIT: Jim Mattis (second left) inspects an honour guard as Nirmala Sitharaman looks on in New Delhi


INDIA will not deploy troops in Afghani­stan, its defence minister said on Tuesday (26), but promised to boost support for a new US strategy in the war-torn country.

After talks with US defence secretary Jim Mattis, Nirmala Sitharaman said India was prepared to increase training for Afghan per­sonnel and develop infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.

“India’s contribution has been on these counts and we shall expand if necessary,” she told a news conference with Mattis. “Howev­er, as we have made it very clear, there should not be boots from India on the ground.”

Mattis’ trip to India is the first by any member of US president Donald Trump’s cabinet. It comes just after Trump unveiled a new Afghanistan strategy and urged New Delhi to help.

“We applaud India’s invaluable contribu­tions to Afghanistan and welcome further efforts to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability and security,” Mattis said.

India has long vied with Pakistan for influ­ence in Afghanistan, building dams, roads and a new parliament in the troubled coun­try. Last year it offered some $1 billion in aid.

It has also trained more than 4,000 Afghan National Army officers and provided heli­copters to the Afghan Air Force.

Unveiling his Afghanistan policy last month, Trump angered Pakistan by saying it offered a safe haven to “agents of chaos”.

“There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens,” Mattis said on Tuesday, with­out naming Pakistan. “As global leaders, In­dia and the United States resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge.”

The two sides will also discuss Lockheed Martin’s offer to build F-16 fighter planes in India as part of prime minister Narendra Modi’s drive to build a domestic military in­dustrial base. “We look forward to sharing some of our most advanced defence tech­nologies,” Mattis said.

Defence ties between India and the Unit­ed States have expanded rapidly, with New Delhi buying US weapons worth $15 billion over the last decade, moving away from tra­ditional supplier Russia.

Military experts say US weapons transfers aim at bolstering Indian capabilities to de­velop a counterweight against China’s grow­ing assertiveness in recent years.

Indian and US negotiators are now trying to move forward with a deal to supply the Indian navy with 22 Sea Guardian drone air­craft, whose June approval by the US govern­ment was the first such clearance to a non- NATO ally.

India wants the unarmed drones to help its navy lengthen the duration of its surveillance in the Indian Ocean, where Chinese naval ships and submarines make regular forays.

Expanding naval cooperation with India was a top priority, Mattis said, adding that three-way exercises involving the United States, India and Japan boosted operation-al cooperation.

The United States has been critical of China’s build-up of military facilities in the South China Sea. But New Delhi turned down a US suggestion of regional joint pa­trols with the Indian navy, for fear of a Chi­nese backlash. (AFP, Reuters)