AFGHANISTAN/DEFENSE/FOREIGN POLICY/JAMES MATTIS/MILITARY: “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 [3-13-18] as he made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan… Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered talks without preconditions with the Taliban insurgents last month, in what was seen by U.S. officials as a major overture from Kabul.
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 last year, in a bid to break the stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.
Ghani, during a meeting with Mattis, described the new U.S. strategy as a game changer, allowing Kabul to extend its peace offer to the Taliban without doing so from a position of weakness… Mattis said the goal was to take advantage of Taliban fracturing to peel off insurgents tired of fighting and create a process that could incorporate some Taliban leaders… The United States has in the past also expressed hope of peeling off elements of the Taliban and it was unclear how this new effort might be different.
Western diplomats and officials in Kabul say contacts involving intermediaries have been underway with the aim of agreeing on ground rules and potential areas of discussion for possible talks with at least some elements in the Taliban.”
-Phil Stewart, “U.S. detecting some Taliban interest in Afghan peace talks: Mattis,” Reuters, Mar. 12, 2018 10:26pm