U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made an unannounced visit to Kabul Tuesday, in the first trip by a Trump administration official to Afghanistan since President Ashraf Ghani offered to hold peace talks with the Taliban.
Ghani, in a conference late last month called the Kabul Process, involving representatives of 25 countries along with the United States and NATO, offered the Taliban political recognition, help in removing their names from international sanctions lists, passports, jobs, and a political office in Kabul if they renounce violence and come to the table.
The Taliban have not yet officially responded to that offer.
But while traveling to Kabul, Mattis told reporters there were signs elements of the Taliban were interested in negotiations. He acknowledged that these were small groups, not the main Taliban faction led by Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.
“It may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop. That may be a bridge too far to expect. But there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government,” he said.
Monday, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told a bi-weekly meeting attended by the ministers and their deputies that the government has not received a positive response from the militant group.
The Taliban have also not yet applied to attend an end of March meeting in Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, the Uzbek foreign ministry said according to Reuters. Participants in the meeting are expected to put their weight behind calls for direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
The Taliban have said they will only talk to the United States and not what they call its puppet regime in Kabul.
Mattis, who is expected to meet NATO and Afghan leadership, arrived a day after the Taliban briefly overran a western Afghan district, a battlefield success the insurgents failed to achieve in 2017.