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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talks with the pilots as he sits in the cockpit of a C-17 aircraft while in flight, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, on the way to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Brandon

Tillerson makes surprise Afghanistan visit

October 23, 2017

The secretary of state made a short visit to Afghanistan to discuss the new US policy in South Asia. He told Afghan leaders he was open to peace with the Taliban if they accepted military defeat.


US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday to meet with Afghan leaders and reaffirm support for stability.

Tillerson met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to discuss the new US strategy for Afghanistan and south Asia.

"The US has made clear ... (its) support (for) a sovereign unified Afghanistan, a democratic Afghanistan, of charting a path to peace, prosperity and self-reliance," Tillerson told reporters. "It is imperative in the end that we are denying safe haven to any terrorist organizations or any extremists to any part of this world."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, speaks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani before their meeting, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan
Tillerson was in Afghanistan to promote Trump's new South Asia policyImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Brandon

Read more: Has Trump's Afghanistan policy destabilized South Asia even more?

Willing to work with the Taliban

Tillerson said the US would continue to wage war against the Taliban, but that it was willing to work with the group.

"There are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don't want their children to fight forever," Tillerson said.

"We are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government." 

Government positions for moderate Taliban members who renounce terrorism and violence would also be a possibility, he said.

Analysis: Trump lays out new Afghanistan strategy

The closed-door talks also covered President Ghani's reform program, his anti-corruption strategy and preparations for parliamentary elections next year.

Tillerson, for his part, reaffirmed the US's commitment to remain until "a process of reconciliation and peace" has been secured. He noted, however, that this commitment was not "unlimited."

Read more: The war for Afghanistan: Washington’s successes and setbacks

Escalating violence

After a failed rocket attack on US Defense Secretary James Mattis at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport last month, Tillerson flew directly into Bagram Air Base for his first official visit to the country. Tillerson spent three hours in a heavily-guarded building on the base.

The US military facility has also been a frequent target of mortars and explosive-laden vehicles, but has escaped attacks in recent months despite a spike in attacks in the country by the resurgent Taliban.

The militant group has stepped up attacks as a direct challenge to US power. More than 200 people have been killed in multiple attacks on security installations and mosques across the country in the past week.

A spokesman for the Taliban told Agence France-Presse news agency last week the attacks were "a clear message ... the enemy who thought they had scared us with the new Trump strategy have now been given a lesson."

Read more: In Afghanistan strategy speech Trump slams Pakistan for providing safe havens

Will Pakistan border fence stop militants?

Pakistan asked to clear militants

Tillerson will visit Pakistan on Tuesday and India on Wednesday. In Pakistan he is expected to press Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif to crack down on militancy in the country.

President Trump has threatened to cut aid and impose sanctions on Pakistan for allegedly harboring militants and supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.

In India he is expected to request that the government expands its economic and development assistance to Afghanistan.

aw/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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