Afghanistan: on surprise visit, Mattis sees 'Taliban interest' in peace talks


The Taliban is likely to miss an Afghan peace conference at which participants are set to call for direct talks between the militant group and the government of President Ashraf Ghani, the foreign ministry in Uzbekistan said on Monday.

President Ghani offered late last month to hold unconditional talks with the Taliban and recognize the group as a political party that would contest elections.

"Right now we want the Afghans to lead and to provide the substance of the reconciliation effort", Mattis said.

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

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

Mattis told reporters that the goal is to convince the Taliban militants that they can not win, which would hopefully push them toward reconciliation.

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

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"The victory will be a political reconciliation".

In August past year, US President Donald Trump asserted that his administration would take a more aggressive approach to deal with the Afghan conflict and to pull out US troops from Afghanistan.

He will also meet U.S. commanders and allied troops posted in the country, TOLO news reported.

Ghani's offer of peace talks comes as civilian casualties have soared in recent months, with the Taliban increasingly targeting towns and cities in response to Trump's new and more aggressive military policy.

The Taliban promptly claimed responsibility, with Taliban spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadi saying in a statement to the media that the group was behind the attack.

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.

This is Mattis's second visit to the war-torn country after he last visited in September.