BAGHDAD — Far from the Washington murmurs about his future, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to two of America’s enduring war zones Monday, prodding leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq to reach out to longtime rivals.
Tillerson flew on a C-17 military transport plane from Qatar into Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base, where he met President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan leaders. After returning to Qatar, he departed for Baghdad for talks with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for the second time in as many days. They discussed healing a Kurdish fight with the central government, accelerating post-Islamic State reconstruction projects for Iraq’s liberated towns and cities, and more.
Tillerson slipped out of Doha before dawn. Few outside his inner circle were aware of the plans. Only a few journalists were allowed to accompany him, and they were prevented from sharing any information until Tillerson was about to depart. He spent about 2½ hours in Afghanistan.
His primary message: support for a declaration that some Taliban leaders could join Afghanistan’s government if they renounce violence and terrorism and commit to stability. He also bluntly warned neighboring Pakistan to step up action against militant groups that find haven within its borders.
"Clearly, we have to continue to fight against the Taliban, against others, in order for them to understand they will never win a military victory," Tillerson said.
Hours later, Tillerson dealt with different security problems in Iraq. The Arab country is reeling from its own persistent ethnic and religious divisions. The most recent: a resurgent Kurdish independence movement in northern Iraq, where a widely criticized independence referendum last month has sparked tensions within the country and with neighbors.
Meeting al-Abadi, Tillerson described himself as "saddened" by the strains between the governments of Iraq and its largely autonomous Kurdistan region. Calling both U.S. friends, he encouraged both "to enter into discussion and dialogue."