New Delhi: Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism and its impact on the countries in South Asia was back in the spotlight on Wednesday when several small rockets exploded in and around Kabul airport, hours after US defence secretary James Mattis arrived in the Afghan capital on an unannounced visit.

According to a Reuters news report, there were no casualties or damage in the attack for which the Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility. According to the group’s AMAQ news agency, IS “infiltrators" used SPG-9 rockets and mortars to target Kabul airport.

Indian officials said IS does not have a substantial presence in Afghanistan with the main fighting group in the country being the Taliban, which receives support from Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

Mattis is in Kabul to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani along with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) chief Jens Stoltenberg to discuss NATO’s “train and assist" mission designed to strengthen Afghanistan’s military so it can defend the country on its own.

Mattis is the first member of US President Donald Trump’s cabinet to visit Afghanistan since Washington pledged to stay the course in America’s longest war and announced a new strategy for the war-torn country that included a stepped-up military campaign against the hardline Taliban.

The Taliban have regained ground after their 2001 ouster and their comeback has been remarkable after the drawdown of US-led troops at the end of 2014. According to various estimates, only about 60% of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are under the control of the Ghani government.

In his speech on 22 August outlining his new Afghan strategy, Trump noted that the security threats the US faced in Afghanistan and the broader region were “immense".

“For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror," Trump said. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately," Trump added later in comments widely read as a public rebuke to Pakistan.

In the same speech, Trump sought a larger role for India in stabilising Afghanistan economically. Pakistan’s support to the Taliban is seen as aimed at ensuring a friendly government in Kabul that Pakistan can fall back on in case of hostilities with India.

Mattis, who was on a visit to New Delhi on Tuesday, has previously said that the US will send an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to help train Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban and other groups. This will bolster the estimated 8,400 US troops deployed there.

On Tuesday, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman ruled out deploying Indian troops to Afghanistan but said that it would continue with its reconstruction and development activities. So far, India has pledged $3.1 billion in relief for Afghanistan.

US generals have for months been calling the situation in Afghanistan a stalemate—despite years of support for Afghan partners, continued help from a NATO coalition and an overall cost in fighting and reconstruction to the US of more than $1 trillion.

The war completes 16 years in October and the US has been pushing its NATO partners to increase their own troop levels in the country.

AFP & Reuters contributed to this story.

Close