U.S. picking up Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks

US-Afghanistan-20

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side", Mattis told reporters before landing in Kabul, saying the signs dated back several months.

Mattis flew into the war-torn city two weeks after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban.

Ghani's peace plan includes eventually recognising the Taliban as a political party.

"It has been a game changer because it has forced every actor to re-examine their assumptions", Ghani said.

But Mattis said some insurgent leaders have expressed an interest in discussions.

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

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. That may be a bridge too far to expect.

"The Afghan forces have warned the Taliban either to surrender or die on the battle field", said Bakhtawer.

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The Taliban overran a district headquarters in Afghanistan's western Farah province early on Monday, killing and wounding at least 15 members of the security forces, a provincial official said.

However, the insurgents, who seized a district centre in western Afghanistan this week, have given no public sign of accepting Ghani's offer, instead issuing several statements suggesting they meant to keep fighting.

The group has insisted it would only negotiate with the United States, which it calls a "foreign occupying force".

Mattis said the jump in attacks on civilians was an indication that a pressured Taliban is unable to conduct broader, ground-taking operations.

Mattis told reporters that the goal is to convince the Taliban militants that they can not win, which would hopefully push them toward reconciliation.

In Monday's assault, the Taliban launched a multi-pronged attack and stormed the district headquarters in Anardara, which they were able to hold on to for a few hours before Afghan reinforcements arrived.

Asked whether the United States would be willing to talk directly with the Taliban, Mattis reiterated the USA position that the talks should be led by Kabul. "It's all working to achieve a political reconciliation, not a military victory", Mattis said.

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