Defense Secretary James Mattis has given the Taliban an ultimatum under the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. He said the war to eradicate the terrorist organization will only be stopped under one condition: that it abandons terrorism.
“It is time for the Taliban to recognize they cannot kill their way to power, nor can they provide refuge or support to transnational terrorists who intend to do us harm,” Mattis said, during an Oct. 3 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He said a political settlement in Afghanistan is only possible if the Taliban rejects the support of terrorism.
President Donald Trump outlined his new Afghan strategy on Aug. 21. He announced the United States would not abandon its war in Afghanistan, but would begin fighting with a clear goal to eliminate terrorists.
“Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge,” Trump said.
Trump also said the United States would no longer try to conduct nation-building missions where it tries to install its own form of government in other countries.
“We are not asking others to change their way of life,” he said, “but to pursue common goals that allow our children to live better and safer lives.”
According to Mattis, who recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan, the new strategy is working, and it has won broad support among U.S. coalition allies.
“Violence and progress in Afghanistan continue to coexist, but the uncertainty in the region about the NATO campaign has been replaced by certainty due to the implementation of President Trump’s new South Asia strategy,” Mattis said.
“This strategy had been welcomed almost uniformly by leaders in the South Asia region as well as by the 39 countries contributing troops to the NATO-led campaign,” he said.
Mattis said forecasts that the Taliban would launch a major offensive “have remained unfulfilled,” and said U.S. and coalition forces “are holding the line.”
Under the Afghan strategy, the war against the Taliban is primarily being fought by Afghan National Security Forces, which has been able to push back the Taliban. Mattis said that while the Taliban “still attempts to seize district or provincial centers before the end of this fighting season, they have generally been forced into decentralized, small-scale ambushes and the use of improvised explosive devices.”
He said the new strategy has “caused the Taliban to expend resources, constrain their movements, and limit the Taliban’s ability to conduct major offensives.”
He added, “We’re already starting to see the psychological impact of the new strategy,” both militarily and in the Afghan government’s push to eliminate corruption.
“Our goal is a stabilized Afghanistan achieved through an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process,” he said.
U.S. and NATO forces are primarily providing military advisers to the Afghan forces at the battalion and brigade levels, and each adviser team is also accompanied by tactical aid units that can support Afghan forces with fire support.
Mattis noted that starting in September, “for the first time in this long fight, all six Afghan military cores are engaged in offensive operations.”
He also said that NATO has agreed to send an additional 3,000 troops for adviser roles in the coming months, and that “15 nations have signaled that they will increase their support.”
“We must always remember we are in Afghanistan to make America safer and to ensure South Asia cannot be used to plot transnational attacks against the U.S. homeland or our partners and allies,” Mattis said.
He added, “Our South Asia strategy reinforces to the Taliban that the only path to peace and political legitimacy is through a negotiated settlement.”