March 21, 2018

USA picking up Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks

13 March 2018, 01:57 | Opal Carroll

George F. Will


The U.S. has a renewed focus on Afghanistan after years of drawdowns under former president Barack Obama and talk by top U.S. generals of "not winning" and of a "stalemate" in the seemingly intractable conflict.

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side", Mattis told reporters before landing in Kabul, saying the signs dated back several months.

"We've had some groups of Taliban - small groups - who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking", Mattis said.

Mattis is scheduled to meet Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to exchange views on matters relating to mutual interests, including the war on terror and the peace process in Afghanistan.

"The Anardara district headquarters is under the insurgents' control and right now, an intense battle is going on all around the district center and government offices", said Bakhtawer.

In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.

The United States past year stepped up its military assistance to Afghanistan, notably through a sharp increase in air strikes, with the aim of breaking a stalemate with the insurgents and forcing them to the negotiating table.

Western diplomats and officials in Kabul say contacts involving intermediaries have been underway with the aim of agreeing on ground rules and potential areas of discussion for possible talks with at least some elements in the Taliban.

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The Taliban last week described the Afghan government as "illegitimate" and its peace process efforts as "deceptive", in a statement calling for a boycott of an Islamic scholars' conference in Jakarta.

The Afghan forces also carried out heavy airstrikes during the day in Anardara and more than 50 Taliban fighters were report killed so far, he added.

Asked whether the United States would be willing to directly talk with the Taliban, Mattis reiterated the USA position that the talks should be led by Kabul.

U.S. defence secretary Jim Mattis believes victory in Afghanistan is still possible, though not necessarily on the battlefield but in facilitating a Taliban reconciliation with the country's government.

"We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan", he said.

While the United States has been stepping up battlefield pressure, Afghanistan's global partners have sought to build diplomatic support from neighbouring countries to push the militants to the negotiating table. "It's all working to achieve a political reconciliation, not a military victory", Mattis said.

He defined victory in Afghanistan as a political settlement between the Taliban and the government, and an Afghan military that is capable of securing the country largely on its own.

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