Mat­tis hints at talks with ‘war-weary’ Tal­iban on sur­prise visit to Kabul


Wash­ing­ton's strat­egy to end the stale­mate in the war.

Mat­tis' com­ments come two weeks af­ter Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani ex­pressed a will­ing­ness to hold peace talks with the Tal­iban.

The in­sur­gents spoke twice last month about the de­sire to hold talks with Wash­ing­ton, but so far have given no for­mal re­sponse to Kabul's of­fer.

“It's all work­ing to achieve a po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, not a mil­i­tary vic­tory,” Mat­tis told re­porters be­fore land­ing in Kabul. “The vic­tory will be a po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

“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 that are clearly in­ter­ested in talk­ing to the Afghan gov­ern­ment.”

He gave no fur­ther de­tails and failed to spec­ify who within the move­ment was ea­ger to talk. “Right now we want the Afghans to lead and to pro­vide the sub­stance of the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­fort,” he said.

At the same time, he ac­knowl­edged that ef­forts to rec­on­cile with all of the Tal­iban had been dif­fi­cult. The ef­fort now is to reach “those who are tired of fight­ing” and build from there, he said.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump last year or­dered in­creased bomb­ing of Tal­iban tar­gets, in­clud­ing drug­mak­ing labs and train­ing camps. He also sent more than 3,000 ex­tra US troops to Afghanistan to boost US train­ing and ad­vis­ing of lo­cal forces.

Apart from other coali­tion forces, al­most 14,000 US troops are now in Afghanistan, up from a low of about 8,500 when Obama left of­fice.

Ghani's of­fer of peace talks comes as his gov­ern­ment faces un­prece­dented di­vi­sion. Civil­ian ca­su­al­ties have soared in re­cent months, with the Tal­iban in­creas­ingly con­duct­ing com­plex at­tacks, tar­get­ing towns and cities in re­sponse to Trump's more ag­gres­sive mil­i­tary pol­icy.

With the US tak­ing more of an ad­vi­sory role, Afghan se­cu­rity forces have been able to stop some at­tacks, Mat­tis said, though he wanted to see them shift to a more “of­fen­sive mind­set” in the com­ing months.

His sur­prise visit — his third as Pen­tagon chief — was kept se­cret be­cause of an in­ci­dent dur­ing his last trip in Septem­ber when in­sur­gents shelled Kabul's air­port only hours af­ter his ar­rival.

Mat­tis is also ex­pected to hold talks with Ghani in ad­di­tion to meet­ings with US com­man­ders.

Wa­heed Mozh­dah, an an­a­lyst who knows some of the Tal­iban's past and cur­rent lead­ers, said the move­ment “has held in­di­rect con­tacts with the US both be­fore the an­nounce­ment of Wash­ing­ton's new war strat­egy and af­ter­ward.

“I know of con­tacts be­tween the Tal­iban and the Amer­i­cans. It seems that the Amer­i­cans have reached the con­clu­sion that the war has no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion,” he told Arab News.

“I do not know which el­e­ments within the Tal­iban are pre­pared for talks with Kabul. If there are only iso­lated in­di­vid­u­als com­ing over un­der the name of the Tal­iban, then we can not ex­pect much.”

Mat­tis and Ghani will dis­cuss peace with the Tal­iban, a com­pre­hen­sive di­a­logue with Pak­istan and the com­ing elec­tions in Afghanistan among other is­sues, a spokesman for Ghani, Shah Hus­sain Mur­tazawi, said.

Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani speaks with US De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis in Kabul on Tues­day. (Reuters)

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