In a secretive trip to Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doubted Pakistan’s ability to fight the Taliban. But he also denied the Taliban has any path to victory, despite the Pentagon chief saying they were “surging.”
Tillerson arrived at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul on Monday, following an earlier trip in the day to the Qatari capital, Doha.
Discussing US strategy in the region, Tillerson said the Taliban, and others, “will never win” a military victory against the US.
But earlier this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis addressed the US’s involvement in the country’s longest running conflict. He said the US was engaged in “a strategy-free time”in Afghanistan, and US forces were not winning the war.
“I think the Taliban had a good year last year,” Mattis said. “Right now, I believe the enemy is surging.”
Tillerson’s unannounced arrival in Afghanistan follows an assassination attempt on Mattis’s life last month, when rockets landed in and around his plane as he arrived in Kabul.
The top US diplomat’s concerns on stability in the region extended not only to Afghanistan, but ostensible US ally Pakistan as well. Tillerson said terrorist organizations find safe havens in both countries. He added that the US’s relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan is rooted in a “conditions-based approach.”
Earlier this month, Mattis railed against Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which serves as Pakistan’s main intelligence agency.
“They have lost probably more troops than any other single country in the fight against terrorism – at the same time we’ve seen havens left to the terrorists’ own devices,” he said. “We’ve seen the government of Pakistan come down on terrorists, when the ISI appears to run its own policy.”
In late September, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told RT that US actions in Afghanistan dating back to the 1980s have left the region less secure. She also said that Pakistan supporting the US in the fight against terrorism following 9/11 was a “mistake.”
On Monday, Tillerson noted that Afghanistan has come a long way in terms of creating a “much more vibrant government” and a “larger economy” in the last few years. He also said there are opportunities to strengthen the foundation of a “prosperous Afghanistan society.”
However, Tillerson also reminded Afghan officials of when President Donald Trump said “we are here to stay” in the country until the US can “secure a process of reconciliation and peace.”
The secretary of state was scheduled to travel to Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad on Tuesday to meet with the country’s civil and military leadership, according to the Express Tribune.
On October 30, both Tillerson and Mattis are scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.