It’s not surprising that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the Taliban won’t win the war in Afghanistan, but it’s more than a little strange that he says the US won’t either.
“I think the president was clear this entire effort was intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand that you will not win a battlefield victory,” Tillerson said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We may not win one, but neither will you.”
Well, that’s awkward. It was just last night that President Donald Trump outlined a new Afghanistan strategy and stressed time and again that victory was the objective. “Our troops will fight to win,” Trump said in the primetime speech.
Many outside observers immediately said that outright victory in Afghanistan was impossible given that the longest conflict in American history is grinding on with no apparent end in sight.
Tillerson appears to share their skepticism. The best the US can do, Tillerson seems to be saying, is hammer the Taliban hard enough that they’re willing to negotiate a peace deal.
Put another way, Tillerson said the best-case scenario is that Trump’s new plan brings about a Taliban loss, but not necessarily an American win. If the US military prevents the Taliban from building on the 40 percent of territory it already controls in Afghanistan, the armed group may be willing to seek a negotiated end to a war that has killed 2,264 Americans — and many tens of thousands of Afghans — since 2001.
Tillerson’s comments may resonate with his predecessors from previous administrations. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also hoped for formal talks with the Taliban as a pathway to peace there. Trump is now the third president to contend with a chaotic battlefield that includes at least 20 terrorist groups.
That means messaging gaffes like Tillerson’s may ultimately be the least of Trump’s problems.
See Tillerson’s comments below:
Tillerson: US's Afghanistan effort meant to tell Taliban "you will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you." pic.twitter.com/8tE8uCe9pu— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) August 22, 2017