US Defense Secretary Mattis arrives in Afghan capital

Bessie Dean
March 13, 2018

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has arrived in Kabul for an unannounced visit to take stock of the war and the prospects of drawing some elements of the Taliban into peace talks with the Afghan government, RFE/RL reports.

The Taliban is likely to miss an Afghan peace conference at which participants are set to call for direct talks between the militant group and the government of President Ashraf Ghani, the foreign ministry in Uzbekistan said on Monday. The Taliban also says that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces must withdraw before negotiations can begin.

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

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

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

"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.

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"We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan".

Mattis said the ultimate victory in Afghanistan will be a "political reconciliation" between Kabul and the Taliban, with a country capable of handling its own security.

The U.S. has increased its military presence and activities in Afghanistan under a more aggressive policy ordered by President Donald Trump, boosting the number of forces from 8,500 to about 14,000.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack shortly after it began, according to a media statement from Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman.

"Afghan security forces have been stretched thin as fighting escalated after winter ended, " the United Nations said.

This is Mattis's second visit to the war-torn country after he last visited in September.

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