British general: US, allies missed key opportunity for Taliban talks

"Back in 2002, the Taliban were on the run. I think that at that stage, if we had been very prescient, we might have spotted that a final political solution to what started in 2001," British Gen. Nick Carter, deputy commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said Friday. 

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"From our perspective, would have involved getting all Afghans to sit at the table and talk about their future," Carter said in an interview with The Guardian. 

The decision not to pursue peace talks with the Taliban allowed the group to reassert control in the Pashtun-dominated areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan and use those areas as the hub for the Afghan insurgency. 

"The problems that we have been encountering over the period since then are essentially political problems, and political problems are only ever solved by people talking to each other," the general added. 

The latest effort to begin negotiations between the U.S., Afghanistan and the Taliban continue to be mired in stalemate. 

Earlier this month, President Obama announced Washington would begin direct talks in Qatar with Taliban representatives. The decision coincided with the official handover of security operations from U.S. and allied forces to Afghan troops.

Prior to announcing the Taliban talks, U.S. officials had said Kabul would take the lead in peace negotiations with the terror group, working off a plan drafted by the President Hamid Karzai's administration.

The decision to hold direct talks sparked outrage from Karzai’s government, which suspended talks with the U.S. on plans for a post-war security deal in response. 

That plan will lay the groundwork for a U.S. military presence after 2014, when all American combat troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan. 

The final 32,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan after the country's presidential elections in April 2014, officially ending the American war effort there.

With peace talks stalled, Taliban fighters have increasingly targeted the Karzai administration's power base in Kabul, launching a string of attacks inside the Afghan capital. 

Tuesday's brazen attack against the Afghan presidential compound in downtown Kabul by Taliban gunmen was the fifth high-profile attack inside the capitol in the past two months. 

It was also the second such strike against U.S. and Afghan targets in and around Kabul since the handover of security operations to the Afghan National Security Forces. 

For his part, Carter said he was unsurprised by the Taliban's willingness to strike deep into Kabul, particularly as the American war effort is winding down. 

"People like to negotiate from a position of strength, and ... the opponents of Afghanistan would like to appear to compel the international community's withdrawal," Carter said. 

"I don't think its surprising that we are seeing spectacular attacks in Kabul and a continuance of attacks elsewhere," he added. 

That said, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said it was "worth the risk" to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, despite the dramatic increase of violence in Kabul. 

“We've always supported a peaceful resolution to the end of the bloodshed in the war in Afghanistan," said Hagel in a speech at the University of Nebraska last Thursday. "I think it's worth the risk."