Mattis makes surprise Kabul visit


US Defence Secretary James Mattis, speaking yesterday while making an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, said: "There is interest that we've picked up from the Taleban side".

Before landing, Mattis told reporters that the United States had picked up signs of readiness from some groups of Taliban insurgents to enter into possible peace talks with the government in Kabul.

The insurgents have so far given no formal response to Kabul's offer for negotiations, but Mattis said some Taliban leaders have expressed an interest in the discussions. Mattis said he had seen some positive indications from Islamabad, noting some Pakistani military operations along the border.

"It's all working to achieve a political reconciliation, not a military victory", Mattis said.

General Mattis' visit to the war-torn city comes two weeks after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taleban.

Afghan president's spokesman Dawa Khan Menapal told Anadolu Agency Ghani peace efforts with the Taliban topped the agenda of talks.

However, Mattis says a diplomatic solution must be between Kabul and the Taliban.

The Pentagon chief defined the final goal of the conflict as political reconciliation between the warring parties rather than a military victory. While the Taliban expressed interest in reaching a political settlement, they have yet to respond to Ghani's offer. But he said it was still too much to expect the whole Taliban to do so.

US intelligence officials are predicting the war will remain stalemated as the traditionally most intensive fighting season begins this spring.

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When Ankara reaches it, the troops will be pulled out of the country, he stated. "We are advancing toward Afrin [city center]".

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 USA military headquarters in Kabul.

As part of an effort to bolster Afghan fighting strength, the United States in recent weeks sent an Army group of about 800 soldiers, accompanied by several hundred support troops, to advise the Afghans closer to the front lines.

He also says Pakistan is changing its behavior after President Trump blasted the country for harboring terrorists past year.

More than 3,000 additional U.S. forces have also arrived in Afghanistan to boost the training and advising of local troops.

Mattis, though, said that "right now, we want to go by, with and through the Afghan-led process".

Last month, Ghani, hosting an worldwide conference in Kabul, offered the Taliban a ceasefire and political recognition to come to the peace table without preconditions. The insurgent group has said it is prepared to negotiate, but only with the US and not with the Kabul government.

The group has said it is prepared to negotiate, but only with the United States and not with the Kabul government.

However, the Taliban appears likely to miss that conference and have so far ruled out direct talks with the Western-backed government in Kabul, which they say is an illegitimate, foreign-imposed regime.

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