US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrives in Kabul

  • US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrives in Kabul

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrives in Kabul

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered talks without preconditions with the Taliban insurgents last month, in what was seen by US officials as a major overture from Kabul. Ghani in February offered recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group as part of a proposed process he said could lead to talks.

Although Mehri did not report the number of casualties, an official of the local administration said on the condition of anonymity that over 10 members of the security forces had died.

"We've had some groups of Taleban - small groups - who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking", Mattis said. "But there are elements of the Taleban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government". "We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort", he told reporters.

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

The US has a renewed focus on Afghanistan after years of drawdowns under former president Barack Obama and talk by top US generals of "not winning" and of a "stalemate" in the seemingly intractable conflict.

Reconciliation, Mattis said, was "almost an equal priority of my interest going in".

"The victory will be a political reconciliation".

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

In August previous 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.

They have offered to directly talk to the United States about a possible peace agreement.

Afghanistan has been ravaged by a series of deadly terrorist attacks in the last few months, which has claimed over 150 lives, particularly in Kabul.

Mattis said the jump in attacks on civilians was an indication that a pressured Taliban is unable to conduct broader, ground-taking operations.

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.

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 past year, in a bid to break the stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.