Times of Oman
Tillerson pays brief visit to Afghanistan to discuss U.S. strategy
October 23, 2017 | 8:09 PM
by Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed with Afghan leaders the U.S. strategy for ending America's longest war, in a brief visit on Monday whose security measures underscored the challenge of quelling the country's insurgency. Photo - File
 
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Bagram Air Base (Afghanistan): U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed with Afghan leaders the U.S. strategy for ending America's longest war, in a brief visit on Monday whose security measures underscored the challenge of quelling the country's insurgency.

President Donald Trump announced a new open-ended policy toward Afghanistan in August, authorizing an increase in U.S. troop numbers to advise and train Afghan security forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations, with the aim of reversing territorial gains by Taliban insurgents and compelling them to agree to peace talks.

Tillerson spent almost three hours in a heavily guarded building at Bagram Air Base, the main U.S. military facility in Afghanistan, most of the time in talks with President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other U.S. and Afghan officials.

At a brief news conference afterward, Tillerson said he would travel to Pakistan on Tuesday to reinforce the Trump administration's demand that Islamabad move more forcefully against the Taliban and other militants based inside its borders.



"We have made some very specific requests of Pakistan in order for them to take action to undermine the support the Taliban receives and other terrorist organizations receive," he said.

Policy toward Islamabad would be based on whether Pakistan took action that the United States deemed necessary to help achieve both peace in Afghanistan and stability in Pakistan, he said.

Tillerson's trip to Afghanistan was not previously announced and U.S. media accompanying Tillerson were barred for security reasons from filing reports until they travelled back to Qatar.

While there have been no recent attacks on Bagram by insurgents, the air base has been regularly hit by rockets, mortars and explosives-laden vehicles since the 2001 U.S. invasion.

Suicide bombers and militants firing mortars attacked Kabul's airport during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month. The C17 aircraft Tillerson flew in was surrounded by armed troops and other security personnel as it arrived in Bagram.

Helicopters patrolled the base periphery and two blimps equipped with security cameras hung overhead. Critics of the Republican U.S. president's Afghan policy have said it differs little from that of Democratic former President Barack Obama, which failed to bring the insurgents to the bargaining table despite the deployment at one time of more than 100,00 U.S. troops.

They also point to persisting corruption and other problems within the Afghan government, military and police. Tillerson stressed that the new U.S. strategy has no time limits, a key difference between Trump’s policy and that of his predecessor.

"The president has declared that we are here to stay until we can secure a process of reconciliation and peace," Tillerson said, adding that Ghani assured him that he was committed to political reforms and a new anti-corruption drive.

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