Published: Wed, March 14, 2018
World | By Camille Rivera

Defense Secretary Mattis arrives in Afghan capital

Defense Secretary Mattis arrives in Afghan capital

"Not a military victory - the victory will be a political reconciliation".

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.

According to Mattis, the picking up signs that certain elements within the insurgency are ready to take steps to end the 16-year war. But he said it was still too much to expect the whole Taliban to do so. "Right now we want the Afghans to lead and to provide the substance of the reconciliation effort", Mattis said. He told reporters some factions of the Taliban have expressed interest in reconciling with the Afghan government.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered talks without preconditions with the Taliban insurgents last month, in what was seen by United States officials as a major overture from Kabul.

The Taliban have waged an insurgency to restore Islamic rule since being overthrown by the US -led coalition in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

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This also includes ensuring that the government of Afghanistan continues to make the necessary reforms that its President Ashraf Ghani has already committed to and that he is moving out on.

Mattis said the goal is to take advantage of fracturing among the Taliban and peel off those who are exhausted of fighting.

Last month, Ghani reached out to the Taliban offering talks without preconditions.

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.

Last month, Ghani, hosting an worldwide conference in Kabul, offered the Taliban a ceasefire and political recognition to come to the peace table without preconditions.

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While the United States has put pressure on the Taliban on the battlefield, Afghanistan's neighboring countries have been asked to put diplomatic pressure on the Taliban, so they have to negotiate. "The way we do that is by focusing on military pressure, by focusing on political pressure working with the regional partners such as Pakistan, and it's through social pressure", Votel said in response to a question.

Mattis has said that the US goal is to enable Afghan forces to weaken the Taliban to the point where the Afghans can manage their own security.

US intelligence officials are predicting the war will remain stalemated as the traditionally most intensive fighting season begins this spring.

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

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has also piled pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militant safe havens on its side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

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