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Clinton: Taliban Cannot Outlast US Military Pressure

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a tribute in memory of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the Asia Society in New York, February 18, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a tribute in memory of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the Asia Society in New York, February 18, 2011

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday the Taliban cannot defeat or outlast U.S. military pressure and must break with al-Qaida and reconcile with the Afghan government. In a policy speech in New York, she also announced veteran diplomat Marc Grossman will replace the late Richard Holbrooke as U.S. special envoy for the region.

In a major policy statement on the Afghan conflict, Clinton said the Obama administration's strategy presents the Taliban with a stark choice of breaking with al-Qaida and rejoining Afghan society, or to continue siding with terrorists and face international consequences.

Addressing the Asia Society in New York, the secretary said the administration is conducting three concurrent "surges": a military offensive against al-Qaida and the Taliban, a civilian campaign to bolster the Afghan and Pakistani governments, and an intensified diplomatic push to end the war and chart a secure future for the region.  

Clinton said the Taliban made the wrong choice after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 to protect al-Qaida, and that it faces another critical choice now.

"Today, the escalating pressure of our military campaign is sharpening a similar decision for the Taliban: break ties with al-Qaida, give up your arms and abide by the Afghan constitution, and you can rejoin Afghan society," said Clinton.  "Refuse, and you will continue to face the consequences of being tied to al-Qaida as an enemy of the international community. They cannot wait us out. They cannot defeat us. And they cannot escape this choice."

Clinton said as the transition proceeds and Afghan leadership strengthens, a process of political reconciliation "will become increasingly viable."

She reiterated the Obama administration's intention to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July - based on conditions on the ground - and to complete the process by the end of 2014 with no lingering military presence.

"In no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people," added Clinton.  "We respect Afghans' proud history of resistance to foreign occupation. And we do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country or a presence that would be a threat to any of Afghanistan's neighbors."

Clinton also lamented the "historic distrust" between Pakistan and Afghanistan and urged greater cooperation.

She said Pakistan should take "decisive steps" to ensure that the Afghan Taliban cannot continue to conduct the insurgency from Pakistani territory.

The Secretary also announced the administration is calling back veteran senior diplomat Marc Grossman from retirement to become the new U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He replaces the late Richard Holbrooke, whose sudden death of a heart problem in December was a blow to U.S. regional diplomacy.

Grossman, who served in Pakistan and was U.S. ambassador to Turkey, retired in 2005 as undersecretary of state for political affairs - traditionally the highest post for a career foreign service officer.

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