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Tillerson Makes Unannounced Visit to Iraq, Afghanistan

  • Ayesha Tanzeem

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, walks on the tarmac as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport, Oct. 23, 2017, in Baghdad, Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting Pakistan on Tuesday to meet with leaders and reinforce the Trump administration's message that they need to take more action against the Taliban and other militant groups based in the country.

"Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they're confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe have inside of Pakistan," Tillerson said during an earlier stop in Afghanistan.

He said the U.S. relationship with Pakistan will be based on how Pakistan acts, and that the goal is to create the opportunity for peace and stability both there and in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has acknowledged that it has some influence with the Taliban, but says it does not control the movement or its leaders.

Tillerson is on a multi-nation tour that included previously unannounced stops Monday in Iraq to meet with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and in Afghanistan, where he discussed the new U.S. strategy for South Asia with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other senior officials at Bagram airbase, outside of Kabul.

"I think the U.S. has made it clear in terms of our support for Afghanistan, support for a sovereign, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, charting a path to peace, prosperity, and self-reliance. It is imperative at the end that we are denying safe haven to any terrorist organizations or any extremists to any part of this world," Tillerson said.

Ghani said the new U.S. strategy brought a positive change in the region and added, “all stakeholders should carryout their responsibilities sincerely,” according to the statement from the presidential palace.

The U.S. and Afghanistan have long alleged that Afghan Taliban, particularly their deadliest arm the Haqqani network, has safe havens in Pakistan. But Islamabad claims it has cleared out all militant safe havens in previously lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan through a military operation.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is greeted by Gen. John Nicholson, right, commander of Resolute Support, with Special Charge d'Affaires Amb. Hugo Llorens, as he arrives, Oct. 23, 2017, at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is greeted by Gen. John Nicholson, right, commander of Resolute Support, with Special Charge d'Affaires Amb. Hugo Llorens, as he arrives, Oct. 23, 2017, at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

Held in Pakistan

Last week, American Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle, who were kidnapped in Afghanistan five years ago, were rescued, along with their three children born in captivity, from the Haqqani network in Pakistan’s Kurram Agency bordering Afghanistan. The rescue operation was carried out by the Pakistan military on an intelligence tip from the United States.

In this still image taken from a December 2016 video released by the Afghan Taliban, U.S. national Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle read a statement urging then-President-elect Donald Trump to negotiate to secure their release.
In this still image taken from a December 2016 video released by the Afghan Taliban, U.S. national Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle read a statement urging then-President-elect Donald Trump to negotiate to secure their release.


CIA Director Mike Pompeo told a Washington based group, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the couple was held in Pakistan for the entire length of their captivity.

This contradicted earlier statements by Pakistan’s military and government that the couple was recently moved across the border from Afghanistan.

Secretary Tillerson’s Afghanistan trip was kept a secret due to security concerns, especially after an attack last month on Kabul airport during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. Even many in the State Department press corps were expecting the visit to take place Thursday, on the way back from India.

FILE - Afghan policemen stand guard outside of Kabul Airport after rockets exploded in Kabul, Afghanistan Sept. 27, 2017.
FILE - Afghan policemen stand guard outside of Kabul Airport after rockets exploded in Kabul, Afghanistan Sept. 27, 2017.

Relations between India and Pakistan, almost always on a rollercoaster in their 70 year history of independence from the British, seem to be in a downward spiral for the past two years. Both sides used harsh words against each other in the recent U.N. General Assembly in New York, accusing each other of human rights abuses or supporting terrorism.

The tensions between the two countries may also be a topic of discussion when the Secretary arrives in New Delhi.

“The possibility of an India-Pakistan dialogue will be discussed, and Mr. Tillerson will also brief his Indian counterparts on the outcome of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group [U.S.-China-Afghanistan-Pakistan] meeting on talks with Taliban that took place in Oman on October 16,” a source familiar with the planning for the visit told Indian English language daily The Hindu.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Haider al-Abadi.

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