March 24, 2018

Elements in Taliban open to peace talks: Mattis

14 March 2018, 06:21 | Kara Nash

Mattis In Surprise Kabul Visit Says Sees Some Taliban Interest In Peace Talks

US drone strike kills six terrorists near Pak Afghan border

He told reporters some factions of the Taliban have expressed interest in reconciling with the Afghan government.

The insurgents have so far given no formal response to Kabul's offer for negotiations, but Mattis said some Taliban leaders have expressed an interest in the discussions.

Trump has also piled pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militant safe havens on its side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Outlining his goals for the trip, Mattis said he wanted to get an assessment of both the re-tooled USA war effort as well as the reconciliation efforts.

The Pentagon chief defined the final goal of the conflict as political reconciliation between the warring parties rather than a military victory.

In Votel's view, the greatest risk to stability in Afghanistan is the Kabul government's "uncertain political situation" as it prepares for planned July 2018 parliamentary elections.

Ghani proposed talks with no preconditions with the Taliban last month, in what the Reuters news agency says "was seen by US officials as a major overture from Kabul".

The visit, which was not announced due to security concerns, comes after the United States stepped up assistance to the Afghan military as part of a new regional strategy announced past year.

At the top of a meeting with Mattis on Tuesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called the new strategy a "game-changer".

However, the insurgents, who seized a district center in western Afghanistan earlier this week, have given no public sign of accepting Ghani's offer, instead issuing several statements suggesting they meant to keep fighting. But Talibans state the sending of soldiers by the U.S. to Afghanistan shows that Washington does not really want the peace.

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

Mattis said he's seen initial indications that there have been changes in Pakistan's behavior but that he wants to use the trip to find out more.

The military is battling a Taliban insurgency while also fighting Daesh terrorist group's gradual expansion in the country's north and its regular attacks in the capital Kabul.

They have offered to talk directly to the United States about a possible peace agreement.

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

Mattis, though, said that "right now, we want to go by, with and through the Afghan-led process".

Reconciliation, Mattis said, was "almost an equal priority of my interest going in".

Ghani hailed the new U.S. strategy for South Asia that allowed American soldiers more authority and resources to target militants in Afghanistan without any time restrictions unlike the previous administration under former U.S. President Barack Obama.

These and other moves boosted the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500 to a total of more than 14,000.

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