Best time to negotiate peace is now, US general tells Taliban


Gen. John Nicholson, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, speaks to reporters at Bagram Airfield March 14. [Thomas Watkins/AFP]

Gen. John Nicholson, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, speaks to reporters at Bagram Airfield March 14. [Thomas Watkins/AFP]

PARWAN -- Now is the best time for the Taliban to negotiate for peace, said the top US general in Afghanistan Wednesday (March 14), warning that a mounting air and ground campaign against the insurgents would only grow.

The Taliban have taken heavy casualties since the new US administration authorised ramped-up air operations last year, said Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He pointed to increasingly effective Afghan commando and regular Afghan army units.

Some Taliban elements are open to talking with the Afghan government, said US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis Tuesday (March 13) during an unannounced visit to Kabul.

"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.

"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 intense springtime combat.

"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.

No military victory for the Taliban

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

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

Afghan and US officials have called on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table in recent weeks.

Principal Deputy Assistant US Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells March 5 described the peace plan as "a dignified process for reaching a political framework."

"We certainly encourage the Taliban to take this offer seriously," she said.

On Wednesday, Afghan government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah once again urged the Taliban to renounce violence and join the peace process, Khaama Press reported.

He made his remarks on the 23rd anniversary of the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, a political leader whom the Taliban assassinated in 1995.

The Taliban will not win on the battlefield, he said.

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