Special Representative Yamamoto, thank you for your briefing. We thank the Secretary-General for his report on the Strategic Review of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. And it’s good to have you with us this afternoon, Foreign Minister Rabbani.
It has been sixteen years since the United States and the international community took action in Afghanistan. Despite all our efforts, the human cost of the conflict remains staggering. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented over 5,200 civilian casualties in just the first half of this year. Over 1,600 of these were fatalities. And tragically, 30 percent of these deaths were children.
After so many years and so much American blood and treasure spent, it is useful to recite these statistics. But however war-weary we are, it is the Afghan people, of course, who pay the highest price for the conflict there. Anti-government forces are responsible for the large majority of civilian casualties. Their actions are too often indiscriminate and disproportionate. They keep old grievances fresh and create new ones with each passing day. We are – and we should be – impatient with this war.
In his speech outlining a new strategy for the United States in South Asia, President Trump said his first instinct was to pull out of Afghanistan. But after studying the issue, he concluded that the men and women who have sacrificed so much in that conflict deserve to have their sacrifice honored with victory. Turning our backs on Afghanistan would dishonor their memory by leaving the world an even more dangerous place than when this conflict began.
This is why we welcome the results of the Strategic Review of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. This is a timely moment for the UN to take a step back and to ensure that its mission in Afghanistan is able to continue its role in promoting peace and prosperity.
UN support for electoral reforms, peace and reconciliation, human rights, and women’s issues will continue to be critical in the years ahead. We look forward to continuing to work with Special Representative Yamamoto and his team in support of these shared goals.
The United States’ new regional strategy for South Asia is also well-timed and makes clear that, ultimately, the United States and the UN share the same overarching goal in Afghanistan: a durable political settlement that leads to lasting peace.
The United Sates will continue to support the Afghan government and security forces in their fight against the Taliban and in their efforts to combat al-Qaida, ISIS and other extremist groups.
We do not seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan. But we are prepared to assist Afghan forces for as long as it takes to ensure that terrorists are never again able to exploit Afghanistan’s territory as a safe haven.
Our message to the Taliban and their supporters is clear: you cannot win on the battlefield. The only path to peace is through negotiations. You must abandon violence, cut ties with international terrorism, and accept the Afghan constitution.
We will continue to support and encourage the immediate launch of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban – with no preconditions.
We will provide support, but the United States is committed to an Afghan-owned political process to settle the conflict in Afghanistan. The path toward a negotiated settlement is available. The Taliban must choose to take that path.
Afghanistan’s neighbors can also help. A central tenet of our new South Asia strategy is the recognition that Afghanistan’s security and stability are tied to the security and stability of the entire region. We call on all regional governments to support the Afghan government and to do what they can to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Critically, we also call upon Afghanistan’s neighbors and all countries in the region to unconditionally cease their support for armed and violent extremist groups.
Finally, we support Council representatives traveling to Afghanistan in the coming months to assess the political and security environment there. Given the continuing toll of the conflict, and Afghanistan’s importance to peace and security in Central Asia, it is critical that we see this conflict through the eyes of those living it every day.
We are impatient to end the conflict in Afghanistan. But our impatience can be an asset if it is informed by the suffering of the Afghan people and tempered by the need to never again allow terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan.