Some Taliban leaders are participating in private talks with Afghanistan government officials to jumpstart peace talks, even as fighting endures in the 16-year war, the top U.S. commander in the country said Wednesday.
Army Gen. John Nicholson said the talks, involving mid-level and senior-level Taliban fighters, are at a preliminary stage and are taking place almost entirely behind-the-scenes. He said some Taliban figures and leaders have publicly expressed interest in reconciliation despite recent attacks on government facilities.
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"I call this talking and fighting," Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon. "We've seen this in other conflicts, such as Colombia, where the two sides were talking about peace at the same time that they were fighting each other on the battlefield."
Nicholson cited a significant drop in violence during the Taliban's annual spring offensive compared to recent years as evidence that President Donald Trump's new Afghanistan strategy was succeeding in pressuring the Taliban into a peace process.
This latest round of discussions arrives three months after Afghan president Ashraf Ghani issued a peace offer "without preconditions" to the Taliban in February. Ghani promised a ceasefire and prisoner swap in exchange for the Taliban recognizing the Afghan government and rule of law.
Though the Taliban has yet to respond to the offer, Nicholson said there is a "robust dialogue going on inside the Taliban." He said the talks involve "various stakeholders," including international governments and organizations, "all of whom are engaged to varying degrees of dialogue" with Taliban leaders and its members.
"My diplomatic colleagues are the ones involved with this, and their ability to be successful depends in part on the confidentiality of the process," Nicholson said, adding, "there is tremendous potential to advance the reconciliation dialogue."
Nicholson's remarks came hours after Afghan security guards foiled a suspected Taliban attack on the Interior Ministry in Kabul. All of the suspected Taliban fighters were killed or captured after they attempted to enter the government compound wearing outdated U.S. Army uniforms and driving a stolen Humvee.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility just hours after the attack, but Nicholson said the tactics "track with" those used by the Taliban-Haqqani network.