Mattis: We 'Look Toward a Victory In Afghanistan - Not a Military Victory'

Howard TerryMar 14, 2018

US Defence Secretary James Mattis, speaking yesterday while making an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, said: "There is interest that we've picked up from the Taleban side".

He said: "Right now, we want the Afghans to lead, and provide the substance of the reconciliation effort".

At the top of a meeting with Mattis on Tuesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called the new strategy a "game-changer".

Issues related to counter-terrorism operations and support for the security and defense forces were also discussed, he added.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Mattis addresses a news conference during a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence ministers meeting in Brussels Thomson Reuters KABUL (Reuters) - The United States is picking up signs of interest from Taliban elements in exploring the possibility of talks to end the more than 16-year-old war, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday, at the start of an unannounced visit to Afghanistan.

The United States has boosted the number of USA troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500, to a total of more than 14,000, and stepped up air strikes in the country.

"That is why at the Kabul Process conference we have presented [a] comprehensive proposal for peace with the Taliban and state-to-state talks with Pakistan", the presidential palace quoted Ghani as saying in a statement.

The defence secretary, who commanded USA 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.

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.

Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of waging an "undeclared war" against Afghanistan via the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, an allegation that Islamabad denies.

"In other words, it may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop", he said.

"We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan - not a military victory", he said. It's part of a new Trump administration strategy announced past year.

In August a year ago, US President Donald Trump asserted that his administration would take a more aggressive approach to deal with the Afghan conflict and to pull out US troops from Afghanistan. These and other moves boosted the number of US troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500, to a total of more than 14,000.

Mattis said the goal was to convince the Taliban insurgents that they could not win, which would hopefully push them towards reconciliation.

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

The insurgents have recently stepped up attacks against Afghan security forces across Farah province.

He said the positive signals had come from small numbers of insurgents.

Last month in an open letter Taliban reached out to the hopes of ending the war.

Testifying at the same hearing, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, offered a mixed outlook.

In a late-February report, the Pentagon's special inspector general for Afghanistan reported that the Afghan government's control of the country is at its lowest recorded level since the end of 2015 and that Taliban control it at its highest.

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