Top U.S. General Cautiously Optimistic About Afghan Peace Push

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford / Reuters

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The top U.S. general said on Friday he was cautiously optimistic about efforts to reach a negotiated end to the nearly 18-year-old war in Afghanistan, in remarks that followed talks in Kabul with Afghanistan's president and the top U.S. negotiator.

"We're all cautiously optimistic, in the sense that Ambassador Khalilzad is now doing something we haven't seen in the entire time that we've been deployed to Afghanistan," Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dunford was referring to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy negotiating with Taliban insurgents, who he said was engaged in a "fairly robust dialogue now between the Taliban."

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Washington is seeking to negotiate a deal under which foreign forces would pull out of Afghanistan in return for security guarantees by the Taliban, including a pledge that the country will not become a safe haven for terror groups.

Dunford said there were several factors coming together that gave reason to believe that there might be a window of opportunity now for inter-Afghan dialogue and reconciliation.

"There's a higher degree of positive statements coming out of Islamabad about reconciliation than we have seen. There is good momentum in Doha right now with follow-on schedules for inter-Afghan dialogue," Dunford said.

Dunford made the remarks to a small group of reporters in Baghdad after visiting Kabul on Wednesday and Thursday.

About 14,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces and to carry out counter-terrorism operations.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)