Taliban Likely To Miss Afghan Peace Meeting, Says Uzbekistan

Mattis In Surprise Kabul Visit Says Sees Some Taliban Interest In Peace Talks

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has arrived in Kabul for an unannounced visit to take stock of the war and the prospects of drawing some elements of the Taliban into peace talks with the Afghan government, RFE/RL reports.

The military is battling a Taliban insurgency while also fighting the Islamic State group's gradual expansion in the country's north and its regular attacks in the capital Kabul.

Ghani's peace plan includes eventually recognising the Taliban as a political party.

The insurgent group has said it was prepared to negotiate, but only with the U.S. and not with the Kabul government. "Not a military victory, the victory will be a political reconciliation with the Taliban, which has achieved a stalemate in recent years and shown little interest in conceding to the Kabul government", Mattis added.

The Taliban overran a district headquarters in Afghanistan's western Farah province early on Monday, killing and wounding at least 15 members of the security forces, a provincial official said.

United Nations said that over 445,000 people were displaced due to conflict in the country in 2017.

The visit comes as the U.S. injects new resources into the stalemated war.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has also piled pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militant safe havens on its side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

It marks Mattis' third visit to the country, where about 11,000 USA troops are stationed.

Mattis said some of his indications, which he did not detail, dated back before Ghani's remarks.

Conference participants will call for an urgent start of direct talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban, the press office of Uzbekistan´s foreign ministry said in a written reply to questions from Reuters.

The Afghan security forces were able to stop some attacks, Mattis said, though he noted he wanted to see them shift to a more "offensive mindset" in the coming months.

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

Mattis previously visited Afghanistan in April and September 2017.

Mattis also said he had seen some changes in Pakistan's behaviour since Trump blasted the country previous year for harbouring the Taliban.



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