Mattis just made a surprise visit to Kabul

THE CANADIAN PRESS  Tara Brautigam

The United States is picking up signs of interest from some elements of the Taliban in exploring the possibility of talks to end the more than 16-year-old war, he said.

The news should bode well for the United States, who in the span of a year have increased air strikes and stepped up military assistance in Afghanistan to fight the insurgents.

M - 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, Reuterssaid as the Foreign Ministry of Uzbekistan saying on Monday.

Last month, Ghani invited the Taliban to begin peace talks without preconditions.

Army Brig. Gen. Michael R. Fenzel, a senior USA military planning officer, said Tuesday that the US -led military coalition has seen "significant evidence across the entire country that there is interest" in reconciliation, with groups of 10 and 20 Taliban fighters at a time turning themselves in.

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The strategy, Mattis said, is to "peel off" those militant elements who may be exhausted of fighting, while continuing to pursue a peace process with the Taliban leadership. The strategy calls for ramping up military and diplomatic pressure on the Taliban to force a negotiated settlement, and does not include a timetable for USA military withdrawal, a notable difference to the plan under former President Barack Obama. "It may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop".

The military is battling a Taliban insurgency while also fighting Daesh terrorist group's gradual expansion in the country's north and its regular attacks in the capital Kabul.

The US official, who landed in Afghanistan in an unannounced manner, expressed that such signs date back several months.

US intelligence officials are predicting the war will remain stalemated as the traditionally most intensive fighting season begins this spring. "There are operations by the Pakistan military that are helping right now, ongoing as we speak", he said.

Mattis said the goal was to convince the Taliban that they could not win, which would hopefully push them towards reconciliation. Taliban so far have not responded to the offer. He met immediately with senior officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass and Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top U.S. officer in Afghanistan.

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There are now 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, which is up from the 8,500 around the time President Obama left office.

Bakhtawar said around 300 Taliban took part in the offensive, which started around midnight, and that around 15 members of the Afghan security forces were missing.

He also says Pakistan is changing its behavior after President Trump blasted the country for harboring terrorists a year ago.

Last month in an open letter Taliban reached out to the U.S.in hopes of ending the war. On Monday, Afghan forces battled to recapture a district center in the western province of Farah, after Taliban fighters seized the town in an overnight attack. The Taliban last week described the Afghan government as "illegitimate" and its peace process efforts as "deceptive", in a statement calling for a boycott of an Islamic scholars' conference in Jakarta.

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