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afghanistan strategy

Rex Tillerson muddies Trump's messaging on Afghanistan

President Trump laid out his broad strategy for the Afghanistan War on Monday night, promising more troops and a path to victory, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used more cautious language on Tuesday afternoon.

While generally praising Trump's strategy, which he described as mostly giving more authority to the U.S. commanders on the ground, he said that with the lessons the U.S. military has learned from fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, "we believe that we can turn the tide of what has been a losing battle over the last year and a half or so and at least stabilize the situation and, hopefully, start seeing some battlefield victories on the part of the Afghan forces." He also had a message for the Taliban: "You will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you."

That's pretty starkly different language than Trump used on Monday night, says Aaron Blake at The Washington Post, when the president repeatedly asserted that "we will fight to win" and "we will always win." The question, Blake posited, is "which definition of success will prevail and bring an end to the war?" Tillerson's formulation of "stabilizing the situation" is "more based in reality," but "not exactly inspiring for troops who are deployed or will be in the future," but complete victory for the U.S. military is far from assured, Blake notes, adding that it may end up being an argument about semantics: "Trump is clearly bent on declaring victory, no matter how resounding the eventual outcome is."