Top Afghanistan general: Some Taliban involved in 'secret' talks to end war

Top Afghanistan general: Some Taliban involved in 'secret' talks to end war

Factions within the Taliban in Afghanistan are open to peace talks and are involved in “off stage” negotiations with government officials to end the war, the top U.S. commander in the country said Wednesday.

Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, said there is an “intensified dialogue” between “mid-level, senior-level Taliban leaders” and government officials in Kabul.

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“A number of channels of dialogue have opened up between the various stakeholders in the peace process,” Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon.

“I call this talking and fighting. As [Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Mattis dismisses reports of his exit: 'I love it here' Publisher says Woodward book sales largest in its history MORE] has said, violence and progress can coexist and that’s what we’re seeing.”

He would not reveal who was involved in the “secret” talks, explaining that names are kept confidential to improve the chances of reaching official peace negotiations.

Nicholson would only say that “various stakeholders” are involved in discussions, including international governments, organizations and internal Afghan leaders, both in and out of government.

All “are engaged to varying degrees of dialogue, with either those who work with the Taliban or actually some of the Taliban leaders themselves,” he said.

In addition, Nicholson said violence in Afghanistan between February and April has dropped 30 percent below the five-year average, which is “concurrent with this intensified dialogue.”

Nicholson, who has led U.S. forces in Afghanistan since March 2016, will step down this summer, to be replaced by Lt. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller if Miller is confirmed.

He will leave as the Trump administration still struggles to achieve significant progress with its new strategy, announced last summer. The plan involves sending about 4,000 additional troops to bring the total U.S. presence to about 14,000 and help end a stalemate.

But there have been a number of high-profile Taliban attacks since last month, including a double suicide bombing in Kabul that killed dozens, including 10 journalists.

Nicholson sought to highlight recent progress in the country, noting that more than 50 Taliban leaders were killed May 24. Among them was the “deputy shadow governor of Helmand [Province] and a number of other leaders under him.”

He added that the group was involved in drug trafficking in Helmand and that the strike has "local significance in terms of the fight in southern Afghanistan.”

U.S. Forces-Afghanistan also said in a statement Wednesday that U.S. forces conducted a series of strikes from May 17-26, killing more than 70 members of the insurgency.