Mattis makes surprise Afghanistan visit to talk about peace with Taliban

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"All wars come to an end", Mattis said. The effort right now, he said, is to reach "those who are exhausted of fighting" and build it out from there.

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.

Just before his arrival in Kabul, Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis told reporters Tuesday certain factions of the Taliban have expressed interest in pursuing peace talks with the Afghan government.

USA officials have conveyed messages to Taliban political representatives in Qatar urging the group to negotiate with the Afghan government. But he said it was still too much to expect the whole Taliban to do so.

He said there were "elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking with the Afghan government", while admitting that not all the rebels would be prepared to do so.

"That is why at the Kabul Process conference we have presented [a] comprehensive proposal for peace with the Taliban and state-to-state talks with Pakistan", the presidential palace quoted Ghani as saying in a statement.

At the top of a meeting with Mattis on Tuesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called the new strategy a "game-changer".

"Some of that re-examination is likely to lead to the intensification of conflict in the short term but the re-examination is what the people of Afghanistan have been (waiting for) for 40 years".

In Votel's view, the greatest risk to stability in Afghanistan is the Kabul government's "uncertain political situation" as it prepares for planned July 2018 parliamentary elections.

The Afghan president asserted that ceasefire must be agreed upon with the Taliban adding that peace needs to be sought with the Taliban in order for them to become a political group. 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.

"In each one of our areas, there are groups of 10 and 20 that are coming in, not wanting to be a part of the Taliban any longer", Fenzel told reporters.

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He described this approach as an effort to "start peeling off those who are exhausted of fighting", after more than 16 years of war.

"What does that victory look like?" A political reconciliation, not a military victory.

"The victory will be a political reconciliation".

The United States has stepped up assistance to the Afghan military and greatly increased air strikes against the Taliban as part of a regional strategy announced a year ago.

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

Approximately 14,000 American forces are now in Afghanistan, up from a low of about 8,500 when Obama left office.

Last month, Ghani expressed his readiness to initiate negotiations with Taliban for a durable peace in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

An attack on a Kabul hotel killed more than 30 people in January and the attack on the streets of the Kabul later in the week claimed the lives of more than 100 people.

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

"Afghan security forces have been stretched thin as fighting escalated after winter ended, " the United Nations said. Mattis previously visited Afghanistan in April and September 2017.

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