Speaking in a press conference on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered further clarity on the new American strategy in Afghanistan as put forth by President Trump in a major foreign policy speech on Monday night.
Saying that with a renewed commitment to the Afghan security forces doing battle with the Taliban, “we can turn the tide in Afghanistan,” and that a “conditions-based” military and diplomatic approach will change the dynamic on the ground.
Tillerson pointed to the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the success the U.S.-led coalition has seen there in rolling back the terrorist group’s gains. From the State Department’s perspective, Tillerson says they must focus on eliminating the high levels of corruption that plague the Afghan government, and the U.S. can do that by holding their own systems and methods more closely accountable, specifically with regard to certain types of aid.
“As the security environment improves, we expect to adopt a different approach as to how we deliver on the development and assistance that supports the Afghan government,” Tillerson said.
While the President focused on the overwhelming need to win victory on the battlefield in his speech on Monday night, Trump also suggested that he would be willing to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, potentially even as an element of the Afghan government. Tillerson expounded on this theme, while stressing that the Taliban will not win another battlefield victory.
“This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand ‘you will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you’. So, at some point, we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end.”
Tillerson also stressed the important role Pakistan plays in bringing the Taliban to negotiations.
“It’s time to begin a process of reconciliation, and a peace accord, and Afghanistan as the President said, can choose its form of government that best suits the needs of its people, as long as it rejects terrorism, never provides safe haven for terrorists, and accommodates all the ethnic groups represented in Afghanistan,”
“We have to recognize that their culture is a tribal culture, and their history accommodates the nature of those relationships, there’s no reason their form of government cannot accommodate that as well.”
At its foundation, this policy change is at least using language that speaks to the reality that Afghanistan cannot become some flowering democracy simply through American willpower alone. Veterans of the war in Afghanistan can attest to the incredible frustration they experienced when they were forced to get Afghans to buy into a government that they did not understand, want, or need. It sounds as though the Trump administration is “managing expectations” before doubling down on America’s commitment in Afghanistan. After 16 years, that is probably the “least bad” approach.
Photo courtesy of state.gov