Published: Wed, March 14, 2018

Elements in Taliban open to peace talks: Mattis

Elements in Taliban open to peace talks: Mattis

In late February, Ghani called on the Taliban to take part in peace talks to "save the country", offering security and incentives such as passports to insurgents who are willing to join the negotiations.

The March 13, 2018, visit, which was not announced in advance due to security concerns, comes as the United States is putting new resources into the more than 16-year-old war.

Last month, Ghani invited the Taliban to begin peace talks without preconditions.

The United States has stepped up assistance to the Afghan military and greatly increased air strikes against the Taliban as part of a regional strategy announced past year.

Mattis acknowledged that efforts to reconcile with the entire Taliban have been hard.

Mattis stressed that the military campaign was aimed at driving the insurgents toward a political reconciliation, as opposed to an outright battlefield defeat.

But Gen Mattis reiterated the USA position, that the talks should be led by Kabul.

Mattis told reporters that the goal is to convince the Taliban militants that they can not win, which would hopefully push them toward reconciliation. United States is keeping almost 14,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, after 3,000 arrived to reinforce the existing troops.

During his visit, Mattis plans to meet with General John Nicholson, the top USA commander in Afghanistan, and Ghani.

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side", Mattis said. 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.

"This is not saying that because the offer's been made it's going to be easy or smooth, but the offer's been made", Mattis told reporters. Neighboring countries are doubtful about America's commitment to a political resolution.

Afghanistan experts have long anxious that a precipitous US exit could usher in defeat for the Afghan army.

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

Mattis said the goal was to convince the Taliban insurgents that they could not win, which would hopefully push them towards reconciliation.

Taliban fighters still control large parts of the country and any new battlefield gains by US and USA -backed Afghan forces can not promise to overcome Afghanistan's yawning political divisions and entrenched corruption.

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.

The insurgent group has said it is prepared to negotiate, but only with the USA and not with the Kabul government.

They said that while Afghan forces are getting better, the Taliban is likely to threaten Afghan stability in 2018.

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

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