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Mattis Sees Some Taliban Interest In Peace Talks

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis lands in Kabul on March 13.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis lands in Kabul on March 13.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Kabul on March 13 for an unannounced visit to take stock of the war and the prospects for drawing at least some Taliban fighters into peace talks with the Afghan government.

The visit, which was not announced in advance due to security concerns, comes as the United States is putting new resources into the stalemated war.

Mattis told reporters he thinks victory -- defined as a political settlement with the Taliban -- is still possible.

The United States is picking up signs of interest from some elements of the Taliban in exploring the possibility of talks to end the more than 16-year war, he said.

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side," Mattis told reporters shortly before landing in Kabul, saying the signs date back several months.

"We've had some groups of Taliban, small groups, who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking," he said.

A senior Taliban figure in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta told Radio Free Afghanistan on the condition of anonymity that some senior Taliban figures “including former senior diplomat Abdul Rahman Zahid have indicated a willingness to join the peace process and are in contact with the United States and the Afghan government.”

The source requested anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media on behalf of the hard-line movement. He said Taliban leaders are still deliberating on an official response to President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer.

On February 28, Ghani urged the Taliban to establish itself as a political party. He offered help in removing sanctions, security for their members, and other incentives.

The source confirmed that Pakistani authorities have released Abdul Samad Nanai. The former Taliban intelligence chief is seen as a key figure capable of convincing the Taliban to join peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

Mattis planned to meet with General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as well as Ghani.

Last week, senior U.S. intelligence officials gave Congress a mixed forecast for Afghanistan. They said that while the Afghan forces are improving, the Taliban are likely to threaten stability this year.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

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