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

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

"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.

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

The group said last month that it was open to reaching a political settlement and negotiating, but has not responded to President Ghani's peace offer so far.

The president also said the government will provide passports for Taliban members and their families, along with office space in Kabul.

Mattis said the ultimate victory in Afghanistan will be a "political reconciliation" between Kabul and the Taliban, with a country capable of handling its own security.

"What does that victory look like?"

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

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The Taliban has previously offered to hold talks on a possible peace agreement, but only directly with the United States, which Mattis rejects.

On Monday, Afghan forces battled to recapture a district centre in the western province of Farah, after Taliban fighters seized the town in an overnight attack.

Mattis's surprise Afghan visit, his third as Pentagon chief, was kept under tight wraps after a security incident during his last trip in September, when insurgents shelled Kabul's airport hours after he arrived.

"Right now the district headquarters and the area around it are under control of the Afghan security forces", Rahimi said, adding that "fighting is ongoing in three different parts of the district" as Afghan forces pursue the Taliban.

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

Mattis also said he had seen some changes in Pakistan's behaviour since Trump blasted the country previous year for harbouring the Taliban.

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