Taliban likely to miss Afghan peace meeting, says host Uzbekistan

US-Afghanistan-20

Elements of the Taliban are open to talks with the Afghan government, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday as he arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit.

The defence secretary, who commanded USA troops as a Marine general in southern Afghanistan during the war with the Taliban in 2001, said that getting the militants on board for reconciliation may be a bridge too far.

"In other words, it may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop".

Mattis said the jump in attacks on civilians was an indication that a pressured Taliban is unable to conduct broader, ground-taking operations. That may be a bridge too far to expect.

The United States has in the past also expressed hope of "peeling off" elements of the Taliban and it was unclear how this new effort might be different.

The group said last month that it was open to reaching a political settlement and negotiating, but has not responded to President Ghani's peace offer so far.

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

"The Anardara district headquarters is under the insurgents' control and right now, an intense battle is going on all around the district center and government offices", said Bakhtawer.

The Taliban last week described the Afghan government as "illegitimate" and its peace process efforts as "deceptive", in a statement calling for a boycott of an Islamic scholars' conference in Jakarta.

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.

While the United States has been stepping up battlefield pressure, Afghanistan's global partners have sought to build diplomatic support from neighbouring countries to push the militants to the negotiating table.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August announced an increase in the number of U.S. troops in the country to push back the resurgent Taliban.

Mattis also said he had seen some changes in Pakistan's behaviour since Trump blasted the country a year ago for harbouring the Taliban.

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