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Mattis wants Indian troops in Afghanistan, but India won't budge

26 September 2017

India's defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman fended off US suggestions that India assume role in Afghanistan peace process even India and the US vowed to jointly stamp out militant sanctuaries.

US defense secretary Jim Mattis held talks with the defence minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi today as President Donald Trump's administration stepped up pressure on Pakistan for more action against militant groups operating from its soil that are blamed for attacks in India and neighbouring Afghanistan.

Islamabad denies giving material support to the militants and instead accuses India of trying to use Afghanistan as a base for anti-Pakistan activities.

Mattis, the Trump administration's first cabinet official to visit India, said the two countries would work together to fight terrorism.

''There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens,'' he said in a statement. ''As global leaders, India and the United States resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge.''

Washington welcomed Indian efforts to promote stability in Afghanistan, he added. New Delhi has committed $3 billion in development projects in Afghanistan and trains Afghan officers in India.

But it has not sent soldiers in the international effort to restore peace. ''Our engagement in Afghanistan will continue, we shall expand our engagement,'' Sitharaman said, following talks with Mattis.

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.

Sitaraman said India and the United States share a strong and vibrant strategic partnership. As the world's largest democracies, we also share fundamental values and interests.

Defence cooperation between India and the US has grown significantly in recent years and emerged as a key pillar of our strategic partnership.

''As we speak, our armies are conducting their Exercise Yudh Abhyas. In our talks today, we agreed to explore additional, specialised exercises,'' she said.

The US is now a leading supplier of state-of-the-art defence equipment to India and Mattis is reported to have shown willingness to share further cutting-edge platforms which would enhance India's defence preparedness to meet current and emerging threats.

The two leaders also agreed to expand on the progress already made by encouraging co-production and co-development efforts.

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

Indian and U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

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