Mattis Says Some Taliban Factions Might Be Interested In Peace Talks

Indonesia Ulema Council chief Muhyiddin Junaidi right with an MUI official Amirsyah Tambunan

In his meeting with the visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, he said the new US Policy has forced every actor to re-examine their assumptions.

It marks Mattis' third visit to the country, where around 11,000 US troops are stationed.

Mattis told reporters that he thinks victory is still possible - defined as a political settlement with the Taliban.

As part of the so-called South Asia Strategy, the U.S. President Donald Trump in August announced an increase in the number of U.S. troops in the country to push back the resurgent Taliban.

The insurgent group has said it is prepared to negotiate, but only with the U.S. and not with the Kabul government.

"The strategy by the US towards South Asia and Afghanistan has changed the environment and created opportunity to focus more on the peace process".

The U.S. Defense chief says the Taliban is coming closer to taking part in peace talks.

Outlining his goals for the trip, Mattis said he wanted to get an assessment of both the re-tooled U.S. war effort as well as the reconciliation efforts.

The secretary's visit comes shortly after the Afghan government said it would be willing to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate political party as part of a ceasefire with the militant group.

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For him, the goal is to show the Taliban it will not have victory in the battlefield, and the group must come to the negotiation table.

"We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort", he said. At that point, he said, Afghanistan would not be "a haven for attacks internationally" as it was when al-Qaeda used the country as a launching pad for the attacks of September 11, 2001.

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. "It's a country whose own people and their own security forces handle law enforcement and any threats, certainly, with worldwide support for some years to come", he said.

These and other moves boosted the number of United States troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500 to a total of more than 14,000. He noted that both the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani have spoken recently of pushing for reconciliation.

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

The Afghan government and the Taliban held peace talks in 2015, but they broke down nearly immediately.

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.

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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