Mattis: Some Taliban have shown interest in talks to end Afghan war

Mar 14, 2018, 06:15
Mattis: Some Taliban have shown interest in talks to end Afghan war

Last week, senior USA intelligence officials gave Congress a mix forecast for Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani described the new US strategy allowing Kabul to extend its peace offer to the Taliban as a game changer.

"We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan", he said, adding, "Not a military victory - the victory will be a political reconciliation" with the Taliban.

The Taliban have waged an insurgency to restore Islamic rule since being overthrown by the USA -led coalition in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

As part of its new strategy for Afghanistan, the United States has boosted the number of US troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500, to a total of more than 14,000, and stepped up air strikes in the country. But there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government.

Mattis offered few details about the Taliban outreach and it was unclear whether the latest reconciliation prospects would prove any more fruitful than previous, frustrated attempts to move toward a negotiated end to America's longest war. The Afghan President's initiative includes declaring an indefinite ceasefire between both parties, recognizing the Taliban as a political party, and freeing the prisoners in order to initiate a path towards a peace process that puts an end to more than 16 years of conflict.

Last month, Ghani reached out to the Taliban offering talks without preconditions. The military is battling a Taliban insurgency while also fighting the Islamic State group's gradual expansion in the country's north and its regular attacks in the capital Kabul.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during a meeting with Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik at the Pentagon in Washington. Mattis on Sunday

The visit is Mattis's second since President Trump announced last August that, despite his instinct to pull USA troops out of Afghanistan, his administration would take a more aggressive approach to the conflict, now in its 17th year.

Mattis planned to meet with General John Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan, as well as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. United States is keeping almost 14,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, after 3,000 arrived to reinforce the existing troops.

Mattis' visit comes a week after USA intelligence officials told Congress that the Taliban was likely to continue to threaten Afghan stability in 2018, despite an improvement in Afghan security forces.

"Afghan security forces have been stretched thin as fighting escalated after winter ended, " the United Nations said.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of U.S. European Command, told a congressional panel on March 8, just days after visiting Afghanistan, that the Army's newly deployed brigade of advisers are expected to provide "a great boost for the mission" by operating more widely and closer to the front lines.

But the Taliban has so far ruled out direct talks with the Western-backed government, which they say is illegitimate.

The Taliban now controls its largest swath of territory in the county since 2015.

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