Defense Secretary Mattis in Kabul, Says Elements of Taliban Open to Talks

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Speaking to reporters on the plane, Mattis reiterated that the United States defines victory in Afghanistan as political reconciliation, not a military victory.

Mattis said we shouldn't expect peace moves from the Taliban en masse, but that some might be open to talks.

Votel said one of his top priories is to implement the South Asia strategy in Afghanistan, reaffirming its enduring commitment to Afghanistan by reinforcing the two complementary military missions: the NATO-led train, advise and assist mission and the United States counterterrorism mission. "It may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop".

"We've had some groups of Taliban, small groups, who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking", said Mattis. The US stance is it wants Kabul to lead the way for the talks.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday he believes victory in Afghanistan is still possible - not necessarily on the battlefield but in facilitating a Taliban reconciliation with the Afghan government.

Although the Taliban didn't express any immediate interest on the proposal last month, Mattis told reporters he had heard smatterings of interest expressed by some factions in the Taliban.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Kabul on March 13 for an unannounced visit to take stock of the war and the prospects for drawing at least some Taliban fighters into peace talks with the Afghan government.

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.

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

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Mattis described the approach as peeling off fighters exhausted from a war that's gone on for more than 16 years.

Mattis says the uptick in Taliban attacks on civilians show the insurgency can not gain more territory.

Last month in an open letter Taliban reached out to the U.S.in hopes of ending the war.

The group has said it is prepared to negotiate, but only with the United States and not with the Kabul government.

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

However, Mattis says a diplomatic solution must be between Kabul and the Taliban.

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

These and other moves boosted the number of USA troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500 to a total of more than 14,000.

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