Monday, 25 June, 2018

Elements in Taliban Open to Peace Talks: Mattis

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis
Ellis Copeland | 13 March, 2018, 13:56

While the USA military says the strategy has hit the Taliban hard, they still control or contest much of the country.

Mattis planned to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and top USA commanders including General John Nicholson, the top US officer in Afghanistan. The insurgent group has said it is prepared to negotiate, but only with the United States and not with the Kabul government.

Previous peace offers to the militants were refused.

The defence secretary, who commanded United States troops as a Marine general in southern Afghanistan during the war with the Taliban in 2001, said that getting the militants on board for reconciliation may be a bridge too far.

"In other words, it may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop". So the emphasis is on drawing in Taliban elements piecemeal. Mattis told reporters that he thinks victory is still possible - defined as a political settlement with the Taliban.

However, the insurgents, who seized a district centre in western Afghanistan this week, have given no public sign of accepting Ghani's offer, instead issuing several statements suggesting they meant to keep fighting.

The United States has boosted the number of USA troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500, to a total of more than 14,000, and stepped up air strikes in the country.

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In August a year ago, US President Donald Trump asserted that his administration would take a more aggressive approach to deal with the Afghan conflict and to pull out US troops from Afghanistan.

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.

Taliban fighters control large parts of the country, and thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians are being killed every year.

The Afghan security forces were able to stop some attacks, Mattis said, though he noted he wanted to see them shift to a more "offensive mindset" in the coming months.

Asked whether the United States would be willing to directly talk with the Taliban, Mattis reiterated the US position that the talks should be led by Kabul. "Right now we want the Afghans to lead and to provide the substance of the reconciliation effort", Mattis said.

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

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