US should not exit Afghanistan unless Qaeda leadership is eliminated: Ex-NATO commander

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Washington, Nov.19 (ANI): The United States should not think of vacating Afghanistan until the Al-Qaeda leadership, which is supposedly based in Pakistan, is eliminated, a former NATO commander-in-chief has said.

Speaking at a Congressional hearing on Pakistan and Afghanistan, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General (retired) Wesley Clark said US' exit from the region would not only have an adverse effect on the 'war on terror', but it would also destabilise Pakistan.

"Any exit of the US forces from the region would not only give the Taliban and al-Qaeda a sense of victory, but would also have an adverse impact on the stability of Pakistan," The News quoted General Clark, as saying.

He emphasized that the US should not abruptly change its policies and recall troops from Afghanistan, which can seriously dent its efforts in that country over the past eight years and would subsequently tarnish Washington's image.

"We have got about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and we simply cannot abruptly reverse the US policy. We can't abandon the government in Afghanistan. We can't withdraw promptly our forces there, however, we might want to, without having adverse consequences far beyond Afghanistan and, especially, impacting on the government of Pakistan," Clark said.

"We can see experience after experience with this: al-Qaeda would claim credit; terrorist recruitment would surge; subversion within states allied and friendly with us would intensify; Pakistan's stability would be further undercut; and the US power and prestige would wane. We would be dramatically increasing the threat," he added.

Clark supported the Obama administration's decision to enhance monetary assistance being provided to Pakistan, but highlighted that the White House should seek more action from Islamabad against the Al-Qaeda leadership.

"We must encourage and demand that Pakistan take direct action against the al-Qaeda leadership," he said underlining that it won't be such an easy task.

"That won't be easy because there must be someone in Pakistan who must believe that if it weren't for Al-Qaeda being there, that we would be totally aligned with India," he said.

"So somehow we've got to disabuse the government of Pakistan of that suspicion, and it's got to be driven down through the ranks. And we've got to have their wholehearted support to clean up their own internal security problems," Clark added.

Clark also pointed out that there never can be a 'satisfactory' solution to the myriad of problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so it would be better if the US works to reduce the security threat rather than eliminating it completely.

"There will never be a complete and wholly satisfactory solution, and so we've got to meet our own security needs. And the principal security need in this region is to reduce the continuing threat of al Qaeda, which is reportedly based principally in Pakistan. It's their decisive defeat that we must seek," he said. (ANI)

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