Afghanistan wants the United States to send more forces to help meet shortfalls in the battle against the Taliban and the Islamic State group, the nation's top diplomat said Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani welcomed a recent call by U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan, for a few thousand more troops from the U.S. or other coalition partners to help break the stalemate in the war-torn country.
The Trump administration has not yet said if it will send more forces in response to Nicholson's comments. Some 8,400 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan, performing counterterrorism operations against insurgents and training the Afghan army. The war is in its 16th year.
Citing a deadly attack this month on a military hospital in Kabul, Rabbani said Afghanistan needs U.S. help in addressing "military shortfalls," through increased training, ground and air capabilities, and reconnaissance and intelligence support. The attack was launched by IS with the Taliban.
"We stand confident that the new U.S. administration under President Trump will remain strategically engaged and continue its support," Rabbani said at the Atlantic Council think-tank ahead of a gathering in Washington of the U.S.-led coalition against IS. He described Nicholson's call as "an appropriate decision considering the prevailing security challenges still facing us."
In a sign of how major powers are vying for influence in the region, Rabbani said Russia is planning a 12-nation conference on Afghanistan. The former Soviet Union engaged in a disastrous decade-long occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Rabbani said the U.S. had been invited but didn't know if it would attend. The State Department said it hasn't yet decided on its participation.
Rabbani said the discussions would follow up on six-nation talks held in mid-February involving China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Iran. He said he did not think the Taliban would be invited.
In congressional testimony last month, Nicholson said Russia has been publicly legitimizing the Taliban and seeking to undermine the United States and NATO in Afghanistan.
Rabbani said Russia and Iran have both told Kabul they have been in contact with the Taliban to encourage a return to the negotiating table. They deny providing the Taliban material support.
Rabbani said terrorism and extremism must be combated through co-operation among governments. He said the Taliban wouldn't seek peace unless Pakistan cracked down on "terrorist safe havens" on its soil — a long-running source of bitterness between the neighbouring countries.