Published: Tue, March 13, 2018
People | By Neil Grant

Some Taliban fighters interested in ending nearly 17-year war, Mattis says

Some Taliban fighters interested in ending nearly 17-year war, Mattis says

Before landing in the Afghan capital, Mattis told reporters that the United States was picking up signs of interest from groups of Taliban fighters in exploring the possibility of talks to end the violence, adding that the signs date back several months. "It's a country whose own people and their own security forces handle law enforcement and any threats... certainly with global support for some years to come", he said.

It marks Mattis' third visit to the country, where about 11,000 USA troops are stationed. "But there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government", he said.

The United States has in the past also expressed hope of "peeling off" elements of the Taleban and it was unclear how this new effort might be different.

Western diplomats and officials in Kabul say contacts involving intermediaries have been underway with the aim of agreeing on ground rules and potential areas of discussion for possible talks with at least some elements in the Taliban.

The group has insisted it would only negotiate with the United States, which it calls a "foreign occupying force".

Mattis said the ultimate victory in Afghanistan will be a "political reconciliation" between Kabul and the Taliban, with a country capable of handling its own security.

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.

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

Ghani's offer of peace talks comes as civilian casualties have soared in recent months, with the Taliban increasingly targeting towns and cities in response to Trump's new and more aggressive military policy.

Afghanistan has been mired in war since a US -led campaign that ousted the Taliban from power in response to the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks in the United States, and its harboring of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Mattis said he had seen some positive indications from Islamabad, noting some Pakistani military operations along the border. Ghani in February offered recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group as part of a proposed process he said could lead to talks.

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

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