Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke with reporters this week about the Afghanistan conflict as he awaited British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson outside the Pentagon.
Mattis said the pressure is on the Taliban to reconcile with the Afghanistan government as peace talks are underway, according to a Department of Defense report on Tuesday.
He also said the South Asia Strategy implemented last year is “working,” adding that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is responsible for any discussions with the Taliban.
“No doubt the strategy has confronted the Taliban with a reason to go to cease fires that President Ghani has led and offered to go into discussions,” he said, according to Military Times.
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The strategy uses a regional approach to Afghanistan’s coalition efforts due to the presence of transnational threats. It also reallocates U.S. forces to support Afghan security forces, and assist them with special operations.
When President Trump announced the strategy, he described it as a path toward victory in Afghanistan, designed to combat terrorism.
“Ultimately, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society and to achieve an everlasting peace,” President Trump said, according to a DoD report. “We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.”
Mattis said the most important part of the strategy is reconciliation. He noted that historical conflicts have been solved by reconciliation, pointing specifically to Northern Ireland and South Africa as examples where reconciliation resolved conflicts.
“The reconciliation effort [is] Afghan-owned, Afghan-led,” Mattis said. “We are working very closely with them in everything we are doing alongside our NATO allies, as we engage to try to end this war.”
Mattis did not confirm whether or not a secret meeting took place between a U.S. State Department member and the Taliban, as recent reports suggested.
A Taliban official, who claimed to be among four Taliban members in the meeting, said they had met with Alice Wells, deputy assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The official described the meeting as a “friendly atmosphere” that held “very positive signals.”
“You can’t call it peace talks,” the official said. “These are a series of meetings for initiating formal and purposeful talks. We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue.”
A second Taliban official said: “We have held three meetings with the U.S. and we reached a conclusion to continue talks for meaningful negotiations.”
U.S. officials would not confirm whether the meeting occurred, giving only vague indications that the U.S. was pursuing peace in Afghanistan.
“The United States is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government,” a State Department official said. “Any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government.”
Mattis noted that there is still much to be done toward achieving peace.
“It is still early in this reconciliation process,” he said.