Taliban likely to miss Afghan peace meeting, says host Uzbekistan
13 March, 2018, 13:44
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has arrived in Kabul for an unannounced visit to take stock of the war and the prospects of drawing some elements of the Taliban into peace talks with the Afghan government, RFE/RL reports.
The visit comes two weeks after President Ghani invited the Taliban to begin peace talks without preconditions to end the 16-year-old war in the Kabul Process Conference last month.
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 previous year, in a bid to break the stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.
"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side", Mattis said.
President Ghani offered late last month to hold unconditional talks with the Taliban and recognize the group as a political party that would contest elections. While the U.S. military says the strategy has hit the Taliban hard, they still control or contest much of the country. "We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort", he told reporters.
Thanks to the political process, Mattis said America is now looking towards victory in Afghanistan after more than 16 years of conflict.
He will also meet United States commanders and allied troops posted in the country, TOLO news reported.
The U.S. has increased its military presence and activities in Afghanistan under a more aggressive policy ordered by President Donald Trump, boosting the number of forces from 8,500 to about 14,000.
The defence secretary, who commanded USA 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.
They have offered to talk directly to the United States about a possible peace agreement.
Mattis said the jump in attacks on civilians was an indication that a pressured Taliban is unable to conduct broader, ground-taking operations.
A day earlier, security forces recaptured a district headquarters in Farah, just hours after Taliban fighters overran police and administrative offices, killing eight police and wounding 10 others.
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