Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs

Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs has said in Kabul, Afghanistan that On behalf of President Trump and the American people, I offer our deepest condolences to the Afghan families and communities who are still grieving as a result of the cowardly attacks perpetrated by the Taliban and ISIS.

The United States Government salutes the courage and sacrifices of the Afghan security forces who are risking their lives every day. I want to thank the brave men and women of the U.S. military, our NATO allies’ and partner countries’ armed services who are advising and supporting the efforts of their determined Afghan colleagues.

As President Trump said in August, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – the worst in the history of the United States – were planned and directed from Afghanistan because it was ruled by a Taliban government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. Nearly 17 years later, our goal remains the same, to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven for terrorist groups to attack us, the region, or the international community.

The South Asia Strategy announced by President Trump is a conditions-based strategy that makes clear to the Taliban that they cannot achieve their objectives on the battlefield, but must address legitimate grievances at the negotiating table with the Afghan government.

He said I think the Afghan leaders have been clear today about their commitment to peace, and this is a courageous stance. The onus of responsibility is now on the Taliban to demonstrate that they are ready to talk – not to the international community, not to me or the United States, but to the sovereign and legitimate government and people of Afghanistan.

The U.S. position is unambiguous – and I’m always asked about this so I want to be clear. We recognize the only way to end the conflict is through a negotiated settlement. The United States will support direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban when both sides commit to them. We will support the government and all Afghan society stakeholders as they work to reach a mutually agreeable negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and ensures Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven for terrorist groups.

We support the message that the Afghan government and civil society leaders are sending to the Taliban and other armed groups: the door to peace is open, but you must choose to walk through that door.

The Afghan people as we’ve heard today are ready for peace, and we expect that a peace agreement will require compromise from both sides. But the Afghan people will not sacrifice their safety, legal protections, or human rights to achieve peace. They will not return to the oppression and isolation of the late 1990s. The Taliban have an obligation to explain how they fit into the rapidly advancing Afghan society, one where Afghan men and women are free to speak their minds, choose their leaders, and help shape government reforms.

The United States fully supports the kind of timely, credible, and transparent elections in 2018 and 2019 as essential to meeting the expectations of the Afghan people. Because its only the Afghan people can choose the leaders that will both represent them and work together to create and sustain the conditions for peace.

Another way the United States and our NATO Allies and partners are contributing to the preparations for peace is through our commitment to the Resolute Support Mission. RS is training, advising, and assisting the Afghan security forces who are making it increasingly clear to the Taliban that they have no military path to their objectives.

And let me also state unequivocally that the United States is committed to defeating ISIS in Afghanistan. As President Ghani has said, it’s important that we understand how the Taliban have created the conditions that allowed al-Qai’da, ISIS, IMU, ETIM and other outside terrorist exploited to take root and spread their poison. The Taliban should be ashamed that their war weakens Afghanistan.

Regional actors that provide the Taliban and other armed groups with weapons, money, or even political support, only serve to fuel the conflict and disrupt regional security.

There is a better way. We call on all friends of Afghanistan and this region to fully support the Afghan Government and the vision for peace that we have heard articulated today. The Afghan government has invited the Taliban to rejoin Afghan society, participate in elections, and establish itself as a force for good in building a better future for Afghanistan.

The United States fully supports that invitation to the Taliban. We call on the Taliban to recognize the regional and international consensus that they’re hearing today and to come to the negotiating table.

And let us all make equally clear to the Taliban that violence can never win them international legitimacy. It can only continue to discredit them and their cause.