Won’t Deploy Indian Troops In Afghanistan: Defence Minister

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New Delhi: Nirmala Sitharaman told United States counterpart James Mattis on Tuesday that there will be no Indian troops in Afghanistan.”There shall not be any (Indian) boots on the ground in Afghanistan,” the Defence Minister told reporters after talks with the visiting US Defence Secretary.

The Defence Minister, however, added that India has contributed consistently to Afghanistan by building dams, schools and providing medical assistance and training to its people.

“These will continue. These engagements will continue,” Sitharaman told Mattis, but “there shall be no boots on the ground in Afghanistan”. She also said that she has raised the issue of US military aid to Pakistan in her talks with Mattis. She said there was a growing convergence between India and the US over the issue of terrorism in the region and condemnation of those who use terror as an instrument of state policy.

Sitharaman underlined India’s strong relations with the US. She said the two countries “share a strong and vibrant strategic partnership as the world’s largest democracies”. “We also share fundamental values and interests,” she said. Mattis said the US values India’s “invaluable contribution to Afghanistan” and welcomes further efforts to promote democracy, safety and security there.

Both New Delhi and Washington have shared concerns about Afghanistan. Trump has also cleared the way for the deployment of thousands more US troops in the war-torn country. Washington has urged India to increase its stake in Afghanistan. India has, however, ruled out deploying troops in Afghanistan.

India and US will stress on freedom of navigation through the disputed South China Sea. Sources indicated that India and US could decide to conduct a joint Humanitarian Disaster Relief (HADR) Operation including helicopter-borne operations. “Joint exercises allow us to know and understand each better,” source said.

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