Afghanistan: Taliban drop first hint about peace talks

Trump admin wants to force Taliban to reconciliation Pentagon

Trump admin wants to force Taliban to reconciliation Pentagon

General John Nicholson, who leads US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban have taken heavy casualties since US President Donald Trump authorised ramped-up air operations previous year, pointing to increasingly effective Afghan commando and regular Afghan army units. "There are operations by the Pakistan military that are helping right now, ongoing as we speak", he said.

And one of the major Taliban factions which controls the Helmand-Kandahar region (that includes opium/heroin as well) and identified as the Mansour faction, has virtually broken away from the Taliban leader Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada.

Mattis praised Ghani's recent offer to negotiate with the Taliban without preconditions, White said.

Washington's apparent policy shift after 16 years, from a military victory to a political reconciliation with the Taliban, came two weeks after President Ashraf Ghani, in an global conference in Kabul on February 28, had offered the Taliban a similar proposal that called for a "ceasefire", the recognition of the Taliban as a political party, confidence-building measures, and free and fair elections.

The US has renewed its focus on Afghanistan after years of drawdowns under former president Barack Obama and talk by top US generals of "not winning" and of a "stalemate" in the seemingly intractable conflict.

It was titled Offering Peace: Framing the Kabul Conference, and laid out a seven-point roadmap for peace.

Trump has made no secret of anger toward Pakistan or his pessimism about Taliban peace talks, declaring on January 29 after a series of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan: "I don't see any talking taking place".

Afghanistan experts have long anxious that a precipitous US exit could usher in defeat for the Afghan army.

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.

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

The article released by the Taliban, which was headlined "Who are the true enemies of peace?" urged the United States, instead of the Kabul government, to come to talks, in what appears a snub to Mr Ghani, who they see as a stooge for America.

Mattis stressed that the military campaign was aimed at driving the insurgents toward a political reconciliation, as opposed to an outright battlefield defeat. "That may be a bridge too far to expect", Mattis said. He offered his full support to the Afghan-led reconciliation process, White said, noting that it is aimed at achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops in 2014.

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