The Russian Foreign Ministry has criticized the new U.S.-Afghan strategy as doomed from its inception and a continuation of the failed policies of past administrations, which narrowly focused on the continued use of military force as a means to pacify the 16-year insurgency against U.S. and NATO occupation.
“The main emphasis in the new strategy, which was announced by Washington, is made on settlement through use of force … we believe that it’s a dead-end approach,” Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters, according to RT.
His comments were echoed in a news conference held in Moscow by the foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova who likewise criticized the focus on a “military solution to the Afghan issue, including through beefing up foreign military contingents.”
“This approach is in tune with the prescriptions for Afghanistan issued by the previous U.S. administration, which, as is known, failed to improve the security in the region,” she added. "For our part, we are willing to continue to assist Kabul in training and equipping its national security forces as the main guarantor of security in Afghanistan, as well as in advancing the national reconciliation process."
The comments were a response to U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement on Monday of a “new approach” to the ongoing war, which he claimed was meant to “prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for Islamists aiming to attack the United States.”
Trump also said that the U.S. military would assist Kabul in its fight against "terrorists" such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group while noting that U.S. troops “will fight to win.
In a comment widely interpreted as leaving open the door to negotiations,Trump also commented, "perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban and Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson further clarified the comments Tuesday, leaving no question that the U.S. is hoping to use force to ensure a negotiated end to the war.
“I think the President was clear this entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban to have the Taliban understand: You will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you,” Tillerson said. “And so at some point we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end.”
“Afghanistan ... can choose its form of government that best suits the needs of its people – as long as it rejects terrorism, never provides territory in Afghanistan to provide safe haven for terrorists, and accommodates all of the groups represented inside of Afghanistan, ethnic groups and others,” the secretary added. “ How they want to organize themselves is up to them … So we want to facilitate a reconciliation peace process, and we will facilitate them coming to some conclusion around how they want to govern themselves.”
Lavrov later chided the move, saying that any such negotiations would jeopardize a joint stance agreed between the U.N. Security Council and the government of Afghanistan.
“If I’ve got the new US strategy right, it allows contacts with the Taliban without them fulfilling any conditions at all,” he noted. “I don’t think that it goes in line with our joint interest to follow the negotiated, coordinated line which is approved by the U.N. Security Council. But I hope that within the framework of the expert-level contacts we have with our American colleagues, we will be able to clarify this apparent contradiction.”
He added that the U.N. Security Council ruling stipulated that any negotiating process would include the Taliban ending its terrorist ties, terminating armed resistance and recognizing the 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan that resulted from U.S. and NATO state-building efforts resulting from the Taliban's collapse in 2001.
“We maintain the contacts with the Taliban exactly in accordance with these criteria, urging them to comply with the Council's demands,” Lavrov said.
The Taliban remain adamant in their refusal to end their fight against the U.S. occupation and local authorities whom they refer to as “repulsive sellouts.” In recent statements the group has also derided U.S. attempts to convene a peace process, noting that “talks about peace during the presence of invaders will not yield results and are meaningless.”
“It seems America is not yet ready to end the longest war in its history. Instead of trying to understand ground realities, they still arrogantly believe in their force and might,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in remarks released following Trump's speech.
“As Trump stated ‘Americans are weary of the long war in Afghanistan’, we shall cast further (weariness) into them and force American officials to accept realities,” he added. “If America does not withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the day will not be far when Afghanistan shall transform into a graveyard for the American Empire and the American leaders can understand this concept … Afghanistan is not a threat to anyone and neither has anyone been harmed from our soil.”