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United States detecting some Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks - Mattis

13 March 2018

Mattis said the ultimate victory in Afghanistan will be a "political reconciliation" between Kabul and the Taliban, with a country capable of handling its own security.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says small factions of Taliban forces fighting the U.S. -backed Afghan government have expressed an interest in negotiating an end to the 16-year war.

Ghani's peace plan includes eventually recognising the Taliban as a political party. "We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort", he told reporters.

According to an October report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction of the US Congress, 13 of the total 407 districts in Afghanistan were under Taliban control, while the rebels had a widespread presence in another 41 districts. "It's a country whose own people and their own security forces handle law enforcement and any threats... certainly with global support for some years to come", he said.

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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

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.

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

United States detecting some Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks - Mattis