USA detecting some Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks - Mattis


The visit, which was not announced in advance due to security concerns, comes as the US injects new resources into the stalemated war.

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

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.

Mattis planned to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and top USA commanders including General John Nicholson, the top US officer in Afghanistan. The insurgents have so far given no formal response to Kabul's offer for negotiations, but Mattis said some insurgent leaders have expressed an interest in the discussions.

In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.

The United States has stepped up assistance to the Afghan military and greatly increased air strikes against the Taliban as part of a regional strategy announced previous year, in a bid to break the stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.

The Afghan forces also carried out heavy airstrikes during the day in Anardara and more than 50 Taliban fighters were report killed so far, he added.

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In Monday's assault, the Taliban launched a multi-pronged attack and stormed the district headquarters in Anardara, which they were able to hold on to for a few hours before Afghan reinforcements arrived.

United States Defence Secretary James Mattis made an unannounced visit to Afghan capital Kabul on Tuesday.

"We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort", Mattis said.

He said "we do look towards a victory in Afghanistan".

He defined victory in Afghanistan as a political settlement between the Taliban and the government, and an Afghan military that is capable of securing the country largely on its own.

More than 3,000 additional USA forces have also arrived in Afghanistan to boost the training and advising of local troops. "It's all working to achieve a political reconciliation, not a military victory", Mattis said.

According to a report by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the people were displaced between January 1 and March 11.