Published: Wed, March 14, 2018
World | By Melba Underwood

Mattis in Surprise Afghanistan Trip: Taliban Interested in Talks with Kabul

Mattis in Surprise Afghanistan Trip: Taliban Interested in Talks with Kabul

U.S. Army Brigadier General Michael Fenzel, a top coalition official, said he interpreted the Taliban's silence as a positive signal that the Taliban were considering Ghani's offer.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last month offered talks without preconditions to the Taliban insurgents, who have previously said they would talk only with Washington about a possible peace agreement.

Speaking to reporters on the plane, Mattis reiterated that the United States defines victory in Afghanistan as political reconciliation, not a military victory.

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 the so-called South Asia Strategy, President Donald Trump previous year ordered the increased bombing of Taliban targets - including drug-making labs and training camps. "Right now we want the Afghans to lead and to provide the substance of the reconciliation effort", Mattis said.

Mattis, a retired Marine general who commanded USA troops in southern Afghanistan in the opening weeks of the war in 2001, said getting the Taliban to reconcile en masse may be "a bridge too far" - so the emphasis is on drawing in Taliban elements piecemeal.

Last month, Ghani, hosting an worldwide conference in Kabul, offered the Taliban a ceasefire and political recognition to come to the peace table without preconditions.

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered talks without preconditions with the Taliban insurgents last month, in what was seen by US officials as a major overture from Kabul.

Mattis was speaking to reporters before landing in Kabul for an unannounced visit there during an worldwide trip.

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. United States is keeping almost 14,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, after 3,000 arrived to reinforce the existing troops.

Mattis planned to meet with Gen. John Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan, as well as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. But Talibans state the sending of soldiers by the U.S. to Afghanistan shows that Washington does not really want the peace. Pakistan, Iran and Russian Federation are thought to maintain ties to militant proxies inside Afghanistan in case the war-ravaged country collapses.

Mattis said the goal was to convince the Taliban insurgents that they could not win, which would hopefully push them towards reconciliation. "The victory will be a political reconciliation".

"I also wonder whether or not they're saying to themselves perhaps this is the best negotiating position (we) will ever have", Fenzel said.

However, the Taliban appears likely to miss that conference and have ruled out direct talks with the Western-backed government in Kabul, which they say is an illegitimate, foreign-imposed regime.

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