United States notes Taliban 'interest' in peace talks

THE CANADIAN PRESS  Tara Brautigam

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has arrived in the Afghan capital to take stock of the war, with emphasis on prospects for drawing at least some Taliban fighters into reconciling with the Afghan government.

Mattis' remarks came as he flew into the war-torn city, weeks after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban.

In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.

Afghan security forces recaptured a district headquarters in western Farah province on Monday, just hours after the Taliban overrun the police and administrative offices, killing eight policemen, a spokesman said.

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

The insurgents have so far given no formal response to Kabul's offer for negotiations, but Mattis said some insurgent leaders have expressed an interest in the discussions.

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Asked whether the United States would be willing to directly talk with the Taliban, Mattis reiterated the USA position that the talks should be led by Kabul.

Thanks to the political process, Mattis said America is now looking towards victory in Afghanistan after more than 16 years of conflict.

The UN said on Tuesday that 30,672 people have been displaced in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year due to continued conflict.

The Taliban has previously offered to hold talks on a possible peace agreement, but only directly with the United States, which Mattis rejects.

"Right now the district headquarters and the area around it are under control of the Afghan security forces", Rahimi said, adding that "fighting is ongoing in three different parts of the district" as Afghan forces pursue the Taliban. "Not a military victory - the victory will be a political reconciliation".

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