Published: Tue, March 13, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

USA picking up Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks

USA picking up Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks

The United States is picking up signs of interest from Taliban elements in exploring the possibility of talks with Kabul to end the more than 16-year-old war, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday as he made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Bakhtawer blamed Taliban insurgents, who have stepped up attacks in the province in recent months against Afghan security forces.

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side", Mattis said.

Ghani, during a meeting with Mattis, described the new USA strategy as a game changer, allowing Kabul to extend its peace offer to the Taliban without doing so from a position of weakness. The president also said the government will provide passports for Taliban members and their families, along with office space in Kabul.

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.

"We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan", he said. "The victory will be a political reconciliation".

More than 3,000 additional USA forces have also arrived in Afghanistan to boost the training and advising of local troops.

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The Taliban, Afghanistan's biggest militant group, claimed 472 attacks in January alone, the Washington-based terrorism research group TRAC said-an astonishing number given that the traditional fighting season does not usually start until freezing temperatures have subsided in the spring.

They have offered to talk directly to the United States about a possible peace agreement.

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

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

Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, says that along with the eight killed in the assault, 10 security forces were wounded in the morning attack.

This is Mattis's second visit to the war-torn country after he last visited in September.

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