Secretary of Defense James Mattis made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Friday in a bid to jump-start stalled peace talks between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban.
Accompanied in Kabul by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mattis met first with the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan and then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The U.S. delegation and the Afghan leader discussed how to move forward with Washington’s South Asia strategy for ending the 17-year war in Afghanistan, even as battlefield victories by a resurgent Taliban have dimmed prospects for peace.
“They discussed peace process, positive impact of the South Asia strategy, reforms in ANDSF, upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, counter-terrorism and dialogue with Pakistan,” Ghani’s official spokesman said in a tweet after the meeting, according to Reuters.
Mattis’s visit comes as the security situation in Afghanistan has worsened markedly since the beginning of 2018. The Taliban have notched a string of stunning, if temporary, victories in recent months, overrunning Afghan army units and nearly capturing a key provincial capital in a five-day battle. Hundreds of Afghan security forces and civilians were killed in the fighting. (RELATED: US Downplays Insurgency As Wave Of Taliban Assaults Kills Hundreds Of Afghan Troops)
Speaking to reporters ahead of his arrival in Kabul, Mattis said the Taliban offensive had achieved nothing of lasting military significance other than the “tragedy of killing innocent women and children.” Despite intense fighting, both sides are ready to seek a political solution to he conflict, he added.
“We have more indications that reconciliation is no longer just a shimmer out there, no longer just a mirage,” Mattis said, according to The New York Times. “It now has some framework, there’s some open lines of communication.”
The senior U.S. diplomat for South Asia affairs, Alice Wells, reportedly met with Taliban officials in Qatar over the summer. The meeting marked a shift from Washington’s longstanding insistence that peace talks with the Taliban should be initiated by the Afghan government.
U.S. officials have also pointed to an unprecedented three-day truce between Kabul and the Taliban in June as a sign the two sides are warming to political reconciliation.
“The most important work that has to be done is beginning the political process and reconciliation,” Dunford told reporters, according to Reuters. “What we are trying to do in the military dimension is convince the Taliban that they cannot win on the battlefield and that they must engage in a peace process.”
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