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Top US general in Afghanistan urges 'tired' Taliban to talk peace

AFP  |  Bagram 

Now is the best time for the to negotiate for peace, the top US in said Wednesday, warning that an increased air and ground campaign against the insurgents would only get worse.

Afghan last month unveiled a plan to open talks to end the 16-year-old war, offering to negotiate with the without any preconditions.

So far the group's response to the offer has been muted, which analysts said reflects debate among leaders over the merits of engaging with an administration it has long viewed as illegitimate.

But US officials including said this week that some Taliban elements are open to talking with the

John Nicholson, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban have taken heavy casualties since US authorised ramped-up air operations last year, and he pointed to increasingly effective Afghan commando and regular units.

"In the Taliban's mind, they see what is coming and these capabilities are only going to get greater," Nicholson told reporters accompanying Mattis on a visit to Bagram Airfield, America's largest air base in that is located north of

"So this really is probably their best time to attempt a negotiation, because it's only going to get worse for them," he added, as both sides prepare for the start of what is expected to be an intense spring fighting season.

Ghani's peace plan includes eventually recognising the Taliban as a political party. In return, the Taliban would need to recognise the government and constitution -- a perennial sticking point in past attempts to open talks.

Despite Nicholson's tough talk, US data show the Taliban is far from being driven off the battlefield.

In October, insurgents controlled or influenced nearly half of Afghanistan's districts -- double the percentage in 2015, the US government's office of the Special Inspector for Reconstruction said in January.

Over the same period, the watchdog said, the number of districts under control or influence fell to its lowest level since December 2015.

"My perception of what is going on inside the Taliban is they are tired of this war as well, they'd like to return home, they'd like to rejoin society and, just like the people of this country, would like to see the end of this war as would all of us," Nicholson said.

He added that there are "many Taliban who could see a way to work within this framework" but cautioned there would always be those that will never reconcile.

"It's encouraging that these offers are on the table and we would appear to be at a point where they could start having a conversation about this," he said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, March 14 2018. 17:25 IST