Mattis makes surprise Afghanistan visit to talk about peace with Taliban

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

Since President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out "subversion" at VA MORE announced a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan over the summer, the United States has sent thousands more troops there and bulked up its airpower.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered talks without preconditions with the Taliban insurgents last month, in what was seen by USA officials as a major overture from Kabul.

As part of its new strategy for Afghanistan, 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.

Mattis acknowledged that efforts to reconcile with the entire Taliban have been hard.

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

Asked whether the United States would be willing to directly talk with the Taliban, Mattis reiterated the US position that the talks should be led by Kabul.

His visit will take stock of the war, with emphasis on prospects for drawing at least some Taliban fighters towards reconciling with the Afghan government.

These and other moves boosted the number of USA troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500 to a total of more than 14,000. Approximately 14,000 American forces are now in Afghanistan, up from a low of about 8,500 when the former U.S. President Barack Obama left office.

Speaking to reporters, Mattis says that victory is still possible, meaning a political settlement with the Taliban could be in the cards.

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Alice Wells, the State Department's top official for South and Central Asian Affairs, said Friday at the United States Institute for Peace that Ghani's approach is more accommodating toward the Taliban than previous overtures by Kabul and deserves a thoughtful response from the Taliban.

The war in Afghanistan has been running since a US-led invasion in 2001 toppled the then-ruling Taliban, which Washingon accused of colluding with terrorist group al-Qaida and harboring its leader Osama bin Laden, who was wanted over the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Mr. Trump, however, said on January 29 that he sees no basis for peace talks as long as the Taliban are "killing people left and right". The insurgent group has said it is prepared to negotiate, but only with the USA and not with the Kabul government. Neighboring countries are doubtful about America's commitment to a political resolution. The number of Afghan combat deaths also is withheld by the Afghan government.

He said the positive signals had come from small numbers of insurgents.

"We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan", he said.

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"I want to talk to people here and see the reality of how they see it, and go back and talk to our intelligence agencies to get a full assessment of where we're at", he said.

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