Mattis talks peace in surprise visit to Afghanistan

Howard TerryMar 15, 2018

Flying into Kabul on a surprise visit, he said some Taliban rebels were signaling readiness to talk.

Last month, President Ashraf Ghani put forward a peace offer to the Taliban during the second Kabul Process summit.

He defined victory in Afghanistan as a political settlement between the Taliban and the government, and an Afghan military that is capable of securing the country largely on its own.

The Taliban has said it will talk to the United States, but not the Western-backed Afghan government the insurgents see as illegitimate. "I ask the Taliban why did they continue the war after the withdrawal of foreign forces; so the Taliban is responsible for this and the war has led to the arrival of more foreign troops", said Saleem.

He also says Pakistan is changing its behavior after President Trump blasted the country for harboring terrorists past year.

According to Mattis, the picking up signs that certain elements within the insurgency are ready to take steps to end the 16-year war.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, Ghani met with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis to discuss the prospects of peace and other issues.

"I think we will succeed, and we hope and pray that our worldwide friends and our regional friends will stay with us, and that people on the other side, the Taliban, will see that this is their best chance and we hope that they will take a chance that is offered earnestly and for the good of our people", Ghani said.

The Taliban have so far given no formal response to Kabul's offer for negotiations, but have published a lengthy statement and an online commentary that analysts say are an oblique rejection of the proposal. Elements of the Taliban are open to talks with the Afghan government, Mattis said.

Afghan security forces keep watch near the site of an explosion in Kabul
Afghan security forces keep watch near the site of an explosion in Kabul

Approximately 14,000 American forces are now in Afghanistan, up from a low of about 8,500 when Obama left office. It marks Mattis' third visit to the country, where around 11,000 US troops are stationed.

Last month, Ghani reached out to the Taliban offering talks without preconditions. Neighboring countries are doubtful about America's commitment to a political resolution. Mattis' party was headed for the headquarters of the military coalition led by U.S. forces. At the same time, it has become harder to gauge such progress because the American-led military coalition has stopped releasing information such as the size of the Afghan army and rates of attrition in its ranks.

The Afghan security forces were able to stop some attacks, Mattis said, though he noted he wanted to see them shift to a more "offensive mindset" in the coming months.

Meanwhile a number of scholars at the event said that there is no religious justification for the Taliban's ongoing war in Afghanistan.

In Votel's view, the greatest risk to stability in Afghanistan is the Kabul government's "uncertain political situation" as it prepares for planned July 2018 parliamentary elections.

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

USA intelligence agencies are taking a less optimistic view of the war's likely path in 2018.

An attack on a Kabul hotel killed more than 30 people in January and the attack on the streets of the Kabul later in the week claimed the lives of more than 100 people.

The Taliban now controls its largest swath of territory in the county since 2015.

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