US Commander Says Conditions Improving for Afghan Peace Talks

General John Nicholson who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan speaks to reporters at Bagram Air Base. AFP

In response to the Taliban harboring al-Qaeda jihadists who carried out the 9/11 attacks, the US government deployed troops to Afghanistan almost 17 years ago to prevent the South Asian country from becoming a "safe haven" for terrorists who want to attack the United States.

In the meantime, United States aircraft are using increased authorities to continue its offensive targeting the Taliban's drug infrastructure, Votel said.

A comprehensive offer by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani late last month, coupled with a recent Taliban request for talks with the US, come as the USA and its allies start a military campaign with thousands of new forces. Mattis focused on what "victory" would look like, and offered a glimpse into U.S. strategy for achieving it. Despite security concerns, the Taliban have pledged to cooperate with the project.

Mattis, however, said that while the U.S. tries to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table with the Afghan government, it will still ramp up the military pressure on it.

Mattis said that despite the apparent changes in Pakistan, he'd still like to talk to people dealing with the border issues and intelligence and their impression of the situation. They have, however, insisted that they would only talk peace with Washington.

Mattis said the jump in attacks on civilians was an indication that a pressured Taliban is unable to conduct broader, ground-taking operations.

"I also wonder whether or not they're saying to themselves perhaps this is the best negotiating position (we) will ever have", Fenzel 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.

"We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort", Mattis said. That may be a bridge too far to expect.

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis met with President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah yesterday at the Presidential Palace in Kabul.

Pentagon's chief spokesperson Dana White said that Mattis praised Ghani's recent offer to negotiate with the Taliban without preconditions.

"But there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government".

"He noted Ghani's diplomatic approach achieved a level of global support not possible with military action alone".

Before landing in the Afghan capital, Mattis told reporters that the United States was picking up signs of interest from groups of Taliban fighters in exploring the possibility of talks to end the violence.

"Reconciliation, Mattis said, was" nearly an equal priority of my interest going in".

But the Taliban as a whole have repeatedly sought peace talks in recent weeks.

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