U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made a surprise visit to Afghanistan Friday, in an attempt to rekindle peace talks with the Taliban.
U.S. embassy staff in Afghanistan have been working on a reconciliation plan with Taliban representatives since July.
“We have more indications that reconciliation is no longer just a shimmer out there, no longer just a mirage,” Mattis said in Kabul Friday. “It now has some framework, there’s some open lines of communication.”
Taliban officials have said they will talk peace only with U.S. officials and refuse to negotiate with the Afghan government, calling it a “puppet regime.”
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Until recently, U.S. officials have insisted talks need to occur between the Afghan government and the Taliban. American representatives have backed off that claim, but still insist the peace process be “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.”
U.S. troop levels have increased from 10,000 a year ago to 14,000 now.
Despite the peace talks, Taliban and Islamic State fighters continue to launch attacks. The Taliban focused its attacks on Afghan soldiers and police, vowing not to deliberately kill civilians anymore.
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Friday’s visit by Mattis came two days after a deadly suicide bombing in Kabul killed at least 25 civilians and injured nearly 100.
Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited nearby Pakistan and spoke of bringing peace to Afghanistan.
Despite U.S. claims that Pakistan is harboring militants targeting American troops in Afghanistan, Pompeo said the talks went well.
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Mattis and Pompeo met with officials in India Thursday, where they released a joint statement reaffirming a “shared commitment to a united, sovereign, democratic, inclusive, stable, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan.”
U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan since October 2001, just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.