Afghan forces retake district offices from Taliban; 8 killed

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Mattis In Surprise Kabul Visit Says Sees Some Taliban Interest In Peace Talks

While the United States military says the strategy has hit the Taliban hard, they still control or contest much of the country.

Mattis is scheduled to meet Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to exchange views on matters relating to mutual interests, including the war on terror and the peace process in Afghanistan.

The United States previous year stepped up its military assistance to Afghanistan, notably through a sharp increase in air strikes, with the aim of breaking a stalemate with the insurgents and forcing them to the negotiating table. The insurgent group has said it is prepared to negotiate, but only with the United States and not with the Kabul government.

Ghani, during a meeting with Mattis, described the new USA strategy as a game changer, allowing Kabul to extend its peace offer to the Taliban without doing so from a position of weakness.

Conference participants will call for an urgent start of direct talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban, the press office of UzbekistanĀ“s foreign ministry said in a written reply to questions from Reuters. That may be a bridge too far to expect. So the emphasis is on drawing in Taliban elements piecemeal.

He defined victory in Afghanistan as a political settlement between the Taliban and the government, and an Afghan military that is capable of securing the country largely on its own.

However, the insurgents, who seized a district centre in western Afghanistan this week, have given no public sign of accepting Ghani's offer, instead issuing several statements suggesting they meant to keep fighting.

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More than 3,000 additional US forces have also arrived in Afghanistan to boost the training and advising of local troops.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has also piled pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militant safe havens on its side of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Put another way, the aim is to convince the insurgents they can not win on the battlefield, thus driving them to reconcile with the Afghan government.

However, Taliban fighters control large parts of the country, the Kabul government itself is deeply divided and thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians are killed every year.

The Taliban overran a district headquarters in Afghanistan's western Farah province early on Monday, killing and wounding at least 15 members of the security forces, a provincial official said.

United States defence secretary Jim Mattis believes victory in Afghanistan is still possible, though not necessarily on the battlefield but in facilitating a Taliban reconciliation with the country's government.

In Monday's assault, the Taliban launched a multi-pronged attack and stormed the district headquarters in Anardara, which they were able to hold on to for a few hours before Afghan reinforcements arrived.

Outlining his goals for the trip, Mattis said he wanted to get an assessment of both the re-tooled USA war effort as well as the reconciliation efforts.

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