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Mattis makes surprise Afghanistan visit to talk about peace with Taliban

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis talks with U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, during a flight in Baghdad, Iraq, Aug. 22, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)
March 13, 2018

Some Taliban factions have shown interest in reconciling with the Afghan government and ending the 16-year war, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during an unannounced, surprise trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Mattis’ trip to Afghanistan included a new security precaution where his arrival wasn’t to be announced until he arrived at the airport and made his way to the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul. Last year, the Taliban attacked the airport just a few hours after Mattis arrived for his previous visit to Afghanistan.

While all of the Taliban may not be interested in peace talks, several smaller factions are, Mattis said Tuesday before landing in Kabul to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“We’ve had some groups of Taliban – small groups – who have either started to come over or expressed an interest” in talks, he said, CNN reported.

“It may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop … but there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government,” Mattis added.

Last month, Ghani invited the Taliban to begin peace talks without preconditions. While the Taliban expressed interest in reaching a political settlement, they have yet to respond to Ghani’s offer.

“We are offering a comprehensive peace deal, so that it could not be rejected,” Ghani told CNN last month. “And were they to reject it, then they would be responsible for the subsequent consequences.”

“I think we will succeed, and we hope and pray that our international friends and our regional friends will stay with us, and that people on the other side, the Taliban, will see that this is their best chance, and we hope that they will take a chance that is offered earnestly and for the good of our people,” he added.

Over the past several months, the United States has ramped up assistance to the Afghan military by sending over thousands more troops to the country in its efforts to fight against the Taliban. The number of air strikes also dramatically increased in an effort to put pressure on the Taliban and force them to negotiate for peace.

While the United States has put pressure on the Taliban on the battlefield, Afghanistan’s neighboring countries have been asked to put diplomatic pressure on the Taliban, so they have to negotiate.

“All wars come to an end,” Mattis said, The Washington Post reported. “You don’t want to miss an opportunity because you weren’t alert to the opportunity. So, you need to have that door open, even if you embrace the military pressure.”

The goal of offering peace talks to the Taliban is to reach Taliban insurgents tired of fighting and to get some Taliban leaders involved.

When asked by reporters if the U.S. should talk with the Taliban, Mattis said talks with the Taliban should be held by the Afghan government.

“We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort,” Mattis said.