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Top general pushes back on reports US ready for direct talks with Taliban

Top general pushes back on reports US ready for direct talks with Taliban

Officials from the NATO-led mission to train Afghan forces on Monday pushed back on reports that the U.S. is ready to start direct negotiations with the Taliban to end the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan.

Earlier on Monday, Reuters reported that Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and head of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, said the U.S. is ready to join talks with the extremist group.

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“Our Secretary of State, Mr. (Mike) Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces,” Nicholson said during a visit with Afghan provincial and government representatives in Kandahar, according to the news agency.

“We hope that they realize this and that this will help to move the peace process forward.”

But the general later said in a Resolute Support statement that his words were “mischaracterized.”

“The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government,” Nicholson said.

“My reaffirmation of Secretary Pompeo’s statement in which he said peace talks would include a discussion of international forces and that the United States is ready to work with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Afghan people towards lasting peace was mischaracterized.”

Pompeo last week said the U.S. would be willing to take part in peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban, but the discussions would be Afghan-led, with the U.S. playing a supporting role.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered peace talks to the Taliban several times, but the militant group – who has long said they will first discuss peace only with the Americans – has so far rejected his requests.

The New York Times then reported late Sunday that the Trump administration, in a strategy shift, has ordered its top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban to jump-start negotiations to end the war. 

President TrumpDonald TrumpHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Man arrested for allegedly threatening to stab undercover Asian officer in NYC Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech MORE is reportedly frustrated with a lack of progress in the country since he unveiled a strategy last August to deploy an additional 3,000 U.S. troops – bringing the total to around 15,000 – and increasing air support for Afghan security forces. 

Resolute Support spokesman Army Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, said in the Monday statement the U.S. “is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government,” however, “this remains an Afghan-led process.”