US Defence Secretary Mattis Arrives In Kabul On Unannounced Visit

Indonesia Ulema Council chief Muhyiddin Junaidi right with an MUI official Amirsyah Tambunan

Indonesia Ulema Council chief Muhyiddin Junaidi right with an MUI official Amirsyah Tambunan

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". "That may be a bridge too far to expect".

"We've had some groups of Taliban - small groups - who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking", Mattis said, according to Reuters.

The Taliban is likely to miss an Afghan peace conference at which participants are set to call for direct talks between the militant group and the government of President Ashraf Ghani, the foreign ministry in Uzbekistan said on Monday.

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.

Mattis said some of his indications, which he did not detail, dated back before Ghani's remarks.

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

Trump, on January 29, said that he sees no basis for peace talks as long as the Taliban are "killing people left and right".

As part of its new regional strategy announced previous year, the USA has stepped up assistance to the Afghan military and greatly increased air strikes against the Taleban, in a bid to break the stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Asked whether the U.S. would be willing to directly talk with the Taleban, Mattis reiterated the USA position that the talks should be led by Kabul.

While the United States military says the strategy has hit the Taliban hard, they still control or contest much of the country. Put another way, the aim is to convince the insurgents they can not win on the battlefield, thus driving them to reconcile with the Afghan government.

Outlining his goals for the trip, Mattis said he wanted to both get an assessment of the re-tooled USA war effort as well as the reconciliation efforts.

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