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Clinton Reaffirms Afghanistan Pullout Schedule, Urges Afghans To Split Al-Qaeda From Taliban

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
NEW YORK -- In a wide-ranging policy speech at the Asia Society in New York, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has outlined Washington's priorities toward Afghanistan and Pakistan and reaffirmed the Obama administration's commitment to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Clinton urged followers of the Taliban in Afghanistan to lay down their arms, renounce violence, join the peace process, and abide by Afghan law.

In 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton said the Taliban made the wrong choice to harbor Al-Qaeda.

Today, the NATO alliance military campaign is sharpening a reversal of that decision for the Taliban. Clinton sternly warned those factions of the Taliban who may decide to continue their armed resistance to the government in Kabul.

"Break ties with Al-Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by the Afghan Constitution and you can rejoin Afghan society. Refuse and you will continue to face the consequences of being tied to Al-Qaeda as an enemy of the international community," Clinton said.

The relationship between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban has long been an uneasy topic for the U.S. administration. The White House, former President George W. Bush, rarely made a distinction between the two groups and viewed them as equally hostile toward the United States.

There has been a significant shift in that policy under President Barack Obama, who has made efforts to persuade the regular soldiers and low-to-mid level commanders of the Taliban to give up on the armed resistance and join reconciliation efforts.

Clinton repeatedly emphasized that point in her speech: "Many low-level fighters entered the insurgency not because of deep ideological commitment, but because they were following the promise of a paycheck. So in London last year, the international community pledged financial support for the Afghan government's comprehensive program to draw them off the battlefield and back into society."

Also today, Clinton officially announced the appointment of Marc Grossman as the new special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Grossman is a relatively unknown diplomat who is replacing the late Richard Holbrooke, a world-renown political negotiator who facilitated the end of the Balkan wars in the 1990s and exercised considerable influence in both Kabul and Islamabad.

Commitment To Troop Reduction

In 2009, Obama launched a thorough review of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and set out the goal of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating Al-Qaeda to prevent it from threatening America and its allies in the future.

Clinton said Al-Qaeda cannot be allowed to maintain its safe haven, protected by the Taliban, and continue plotting attacks while destabilizing nations that have known far too much war.

From the Tigris to the Indus, Clinton said the region will never live up to its full potential until it is free of Al-Qaeda and its creed of violence and hate.

"In pursuit of this goal, we are following a strategy with three mutually reinforcing tracks -- three surges, if you will: a military offensive against Al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban insurgents; a civilian campaign to bolster the governments, economies, and civil societies of Afghanistan and Pakistan to undercut the pull of the insurgency; and an intensified diplomatic push to bring the Afghan conflict to an end and chart a new and more secure future for the region," Clinton said.

The U.S. secretary of state also reaffirmed the U.S. government's commitment to start reducing its troops in Afghanistan beginning in July and to completely withdraw by the end of 2014. She emphasized that the United States has no intention of establishing a permanent military presence in the region, and specifically in Afghanistan, and said Washington fully respects the Afghan people's desire to be free of foreign occupants.

Clinton also touched on the uneasy and often distrustful relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- two countries which are strongly bonded by ethnic, tribal, and political alliances -- and urged greater cooperation between them.

And she strongly warned against any reduction of foreign aid to Afghanistan as some Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are urging.

Republicans, and many Democrats, are concerned about rampant corruption in Afghanistan and the lack of accountability for billions of dollars of foreign -- mostly American -- aid.