US Defence Secretary Mattis arrives in Kabul on unannounced visit

US Defence Secretary Mattis arrives in Kabul on unannounced visit

US Defence Secretary Mattis arrives in Kabul on unannounced visit

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

On February 28, Afghan President Ghani offered to allow the Taliban to establish itself as a political party and said he would work to remove sanctions on the militant group, among other incentives, if it joined the government in peace negotiations.

The United States is picking up signs of interest from Taliban elements in exploring the possibility of talks with Kabul to end the more than 16-year-old war, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday as he made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan.

However, the Taliban appears likely to miss that conference and have so far ruled out direct talks with the Western-backed government in Kabul, which they say is an illegitimate, foreign-imposed regime.

US Defence Secretary Mattis arrives in Kabul on unannounced visit

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.

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

"What does that victory look like?"

The visit comes as the United States injects new resources into the stalemated war.

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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.

Approximately 14,000 American forces are now in Afghanistan, up from a low of about 8,500 when Obama left office.

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.

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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.

Mattis previously visited Afghanistan in April and September 2017. Mattis said he had seen some positive indications from Islamabad, noting some Pakistani military operations along the border.

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