U.S. notes Taliban 'interest' in peace talks


US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has arrived in the Afghanistan capital to take stock of the war, with emphasis on prospects for drawing at least some Taliban fighters into reconciling with the Afghan government.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani recently offered a comprehensive peace deal to the Taliban, but the militants have not responded and have increased their attacks.

But Mattis said some insurgent leaders have expressed an interest in discussions.

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side", Mattis told reporters shortly before landing in Kabul on Tuesday, saying the signs date back several months.

The insurgent group has said it was prepared to negotiate, but only with the U.S. and not with the Kabul government. "It's all working to achieve a political reconciliation, not a military victory", Mattis said.

The Taliban urged Washington last month to begin talks to end nearly 17 years of war in Afghanistan, which suggests they want to explore dialogue.

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Mattis told reporters that the goal is to convince the Taliban militants that they can not win, which would hopefully push them toward reconciliation. "What does that victory look like?" "Not a military victory - the victory will be a political reconciliation".

As part of the so-called South Asia Strategy, President Donald Trump a year ago ordered the increased bombing of Taliban targets-including drug-making labs and training camps.

The United States has boosted the number of US troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500, to a total of more than 14,000, and stepped up air strikes in the country. Approximately 14,000 American forces are now in Afghanistan, up from a low of about 8,500 when Obama left office.

Previous peace offers to the militants were refused. While the United States military says the strategy has hit the Taliban hard, they still control or contest much of the country.

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