US Defence Secretary to visit India - Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan to discuss Trump's new South Asia policy


ISLAMABAD - The US defense secretary is expected to discuss in detail the Afghan situation but will also discuss a possible deal with India for fighter jets and drones.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis is expected to share his concerns over Afghanistan’s security with India during his visit to New Delhi this week.

Mattis is due to arrive in India late Monday and will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India’s new defense minister.

The Pentagon said in a statement Sunday: “ The United States views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia.”

US President Donald Trump and Modi met in June in Washington and the visit by Mattis is a sign "the political leadership in both countries place defense cooperation as a top priority", Dr Mukesh Aghi, the president of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, told Agence France-Presse.

This comes after Trump unveiled his new war strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia which includes the deployment of thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan.

AFP also reported that Trump has called on India to increase assistance to Afghanistan’s economy  while at the same time coming down hard on Pakistan for offering safe havens to insurgents.

According to the report Mattis is likely to seek to persuade India to buy Lockheed Martin's F-16 Block 70 fighter jets in a deal potentially worth $15 billion USD.

AFP reported that according to India it needs at least 100 single-engine fighters to counter the growing air threat posed by China and Pakistan. US giant Boeing has also offered to set up a plant in India for the production of its F/A 18 Super Hornet aircraft if it wins a deal.

In addition, it is expected that a drone deal for the Indian Navy will also be up for discussion, a source told AFP.

Mattis meanwhile is expected to visit Afghanistan but no details have yet been confirmed.

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