Detecting Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks: US

Detecting Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks: US thumbnail
KABUL: The United States is picking up signs of interest from Taliban elements in exploring the possibility of talks with Kabul to end the more than 16-year-old war, US defense secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday as he made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan.

“There is interest that we’ve picked up from the Taliban side,” Mattis told reporters before landing in Kabul, saying the signs dated back several months.

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.

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 last year, in a bid to break the stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Ghani, during a meeting with Mattis, described the new US strategy as a game changer, allowing Kabul to extend its peace offer to the Taliban without doing so from a position of weakness.

“It has been a game changer because it has forced every actor to re-examine their assumptions,” Ghani said.

Mattis said the goal was to take advantage of Taliban fracturing to peel off insurgents tired of fighting and create a process that could incorporate some Taliban leaders.

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