US notes Taliban 'interest' in peace talks

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

The military is battling a Taliban insurgency while also fighting the Islamic State group's gradual expansion in the country's north and its regular attacks in the capital Kabul. While the USA military says the strategy has hit the Taliban hard, they still control or contest much of the country.

Mattis' remarks came as he flew into the war-torn city, weeks after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban.

The Taliban urged Washington last month to begin talks to end nearly 17 years of war in Afghanistan, which suggests they want to explore dialogue.

The UN said on Tuesday that 30,672 people have been displaced in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year due to continued conflict.

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side", Mattis said. "What does that victory look like?"

United Nations said that over 445,000 people were displaced due to conflict in the country in 2017.

The U.S. has a renewed focus on Afghanistan after years of drawdowns under former president Barack Obama and talk by top U.S. generals of "not winning" and of a "stalemate" in the seemingly intractable conflict. "We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort", he told reporters. "The victory will be a political reconciliation".


It marks Mattis' third visit to the country, where about 11,000 USA troops are stationed.

As part of the so-called South Asia Strategy, President Donald Trump previous year ordered the increased bombing of Taliban targets-including drug-making labs and training camps.

The defence secretary, who commanded U.S. 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.

Mattis said he had seen some positive indications from Islamabad, noting some Pakistani military operations along the border.

The Taliban has previously offered to hold talks on a possible peace agreement, but only directly with the United States, which Mattis rejects.

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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