Mattis says Afghan victory still possible, but not on battlefield

Marie Harrington
March 14, 2018

But there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government.

The Taliban, Afghanistan's biggest militant group, claimed 472 attacks in January alone, the Washington-based terrorism research group TRAC said - an astonishing number given that the traditional fighting season does not usually start until freezing temperatures have subsided in the spring.

Trump has also piled pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militant safe havens on its side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

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

The Pentagon chief defined the final goal of the conflict as political reconciliation between the warring parties rather than a military victory.

"We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan - not a military victory", he said.

Two weeks ago, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered direct talks with the Taliban with no preconditions.

As part of the so-called South Asia Strategy, the 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.

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

"I think we will succeed, and we hope and pray that our global 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.

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However, the insurgents, who seized a district center in western Afghanistan this week, have given no public sign of accepting Ghani's offer, instead issuing several statements suggesting they meant to keep fighting.

But Taliban attacks have continued, including a January suicide bombing in Kabul that killed more than 100 people. In late February, Ghani called on the Taliban to take part in peace talks to "save the country", offering security and incentives such as passports to insurgents who are willing to join the negotiations.

But the Taliban has so far ruled out direct talks with the Western-backed government, which they say is illegitimate. Mattis noted some positive indications from Islamabad, including Pakistani military operations along the border.

They have offered to talk directly to the United States about a possible peace agreement.

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

The US, however, holds the position that any talks should be led by Kabul, a stance Mattis reiterated on Tuesday.

As part of an effort to bolster Afghan fighting strength, the 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.

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

He also says Pakistan is changing its behavior after President Trump blasted the country for harboring terrorists a year ago. USA is keeping almost 14,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, after 3,000 arrived to reinforce the existing troops.

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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