WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday that the team tasked with crafting a new strategy for Afghanistan was looking at a full range of options for the entire landscape.

Reports in the US media, however, claim that the team is still struggling with the task, as rifts within the White House and between Congress and the administration have further complicated its job.

“We’ve had now three sessions within the National Security Council exploring a full range of options. And when I say a full range of options, I mean the entire landscape,” Tillerson said.

A transcript, released in Washington by his office, also quoted Tillerson as telling journalists in Manila that in previous sessions, US President Donald Trump raised some issues that nobody else had done in the past.

“The president is asking … some very, very pointed questions, and they are good questions. They were the right questions that he should be asking, and perhaps these are questions that no one’s been willing to raise in the past,” he said.

“And so with the questions that he’s asked us, we want to give him good, thorough answers and good, thorough analysis to go with that, a very clear-eyed view, a very realistic view of what the future is likely to look like.”

Tillerson said that all key members of the Trump administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, have been involved in this review process.

“We want to take the time to do the analysis, a fully integrated analysis from the intel community to the military planners to the diplomatic channels as to how does this all play out and where does this go,” said the top US diplomat while explaining why it was taking so long to finalise the new strategy.

The White House national security team, which is working on this project, was scheduled to announce the new strategy in June but the deadline was later shifted to July and now to September.

Last week, Senator John McCain, who heads the power Senate Armed Services Committee, announced that the committee would announce its own Afghan policy if the administration fails to send the new strategy to the Senate by September. The committee takes up the administration’s defence budget in September and McCain wants the members to have the new policy before them when they discuss the budget.

Tillerson said the process had been delayed also because “we’re taking our time to try to come to a solution that is realistic, takes a clear view of what we’re dealing with on the ground, and being very honest with ourselves about expectations of the future.”

The secretary acknowledged that dealing with Afghanistan was not easy because “this is a very, very a tough area, 16 years, 17 years we’ve been at it now.”

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2017



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