Taliban 'elements' interested in talks: USA defense secretary Jim Mattis

Larry Hoffman
March 14, 2018

The visit came after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently invited the Taliban to discuss a political settlement. 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. Russian Federation concedes "dozens" of civilians injured in Syria clash Pentagon: First Gitmo transfer under Trump could happen "soon" Russian Federation concedes "dozens" of citizens injured in clash with USA forces in Syria MORE said Tuesday.

It marks Mattis' third visit to the country, where about 11,000 US troops are stationed.

Mattis said we shouldn't expect peace moves from the Taliban en masse, but that some might be open to talks.

"It may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop, that would be a bridge too far, but there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government", he told reporters aboard a military jet.

Ghani said a peace process would bring forward "those who want to separate themselves from worldwide terrorist organizations and terrorist activities".

Thanks to the political process, Mattis said America is now looking towards victory in Afghanistan after more than 16 years of conflict.

When asked by reporters if the USA should talk with the Taliban, Mattis said talks with the Taliban should be held by the Afghan government. Taliban so far have not responded to the offer. Elements of the Taliban are open to talks with the Afghan government, Mattis said.

He said, "Of course it's all working to achieve a reconciliation".

Alice Wells, the State Department's top official for South and Central Asian Affairs, said Friday at the United States Institute for Peace that Ghani's approach is more accommodating toward the Taliban than previous overtures by Kabul and deserves a thoughtful response from the Taliban.

But he said the USA was looking for victory in Afghanistan after more than 16 years of conflict, though he said current developments were leading not to a military victory, but "a political reconciliation".

Mattis commanded USA troops in the southern part of the country in the opening weeks of the war that began one month after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has also piled pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militant safe havens on its side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

While the United States has been stepping up battlefield pressure, Afghanistan's worldwide partners have sought to build diplomatic support from neighboring countries to push the militants to the negotiating table.

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

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

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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