Why did Rex Tillerson go to Afghanistan?

A poorly rendered Photoshop, meant to conceal Tillerson's exact location, has garnered criticism

By Matthew Rozsa

Published October 24, 2017 11:00AM (EDT)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

The reasons behind Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's hush-hush visit to Afghanistan remain unclear, even as a bungled Photoshop effort to conceal his exact location continues to draw attention.

The ostensible purpose of Tillerson's meeting was to assure Afghanistan of the United States' commitment to stability in that country and discuss President Donald Trump's policy in South Asia, according to Axios. Tillerson's trip to Afghanistan makes the war-torn country his third stop on a five-country tour that has already included Saudi Arabia and Qatar and will close in Pakistan and India.

One notable hiccup from Tillerson's trip was a snafu over efforts by both the American and Afghan governments to conceal its location, according to The New York Times. Although Tillerson and President Ashraf Ghani said that the meeting had occurred in Kabul, the Afghan capital, the meeting's real location at a military facility in Bagram was accidentally revealed when two conflicting photographs were released of the event. The one sent out by the Afghans altered the picture to remove a clock on "Zulu time" (a military term for Coordinated Universal Time) as well as a red fire alarm, both of which could have given away that it was taken at an American military location.

By contrast, the photograph released by the Americans did not contain those erasures.

Prior to departing for Afghanistan from the Qatari capital of Doha, Tillerson told reporters that he was willing to work with Taliban members if they renounced terrorism and violence, according to the Associated Press.

"Clearly, we have to continue to fight against the Taliban, against others, in order for them to understand they will never win a military victory. And there are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don't want their children to fight forever. So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government," Tillerson told reporters.

He added, "There's a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence and being committed to a stable prosperous Afghanistan."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani Bagram Kabul Rex Tillerson