March 14, 2018
The top commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, says now is the “best time” for peace negotiations with the Taliban, because after years of war, the militant group is weary of an impasse in the battlefield.
Nicholson, however, acknowledged that peace talks, which the Taliban definitively rejected just two years ago, likely would take years to bear fruit.
US officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, said this week that some Taliban elements are open to talking with the Afghan government.
Nicholson, who commands 14,000 US troops and also oversees NATO operations in the war-ravaged country, said the Taliban have suffered heavy casualties since US President Donald Trump authorized heavy air strikes last year.
“In the Taliban’s mind, they see what is coming and these capabilities are only going to get greater,” Nicholson told reporters on Wednesday while accompanying Mattis on a visit to the Bagram Airfield, America’s largest air base in Afghanistan.
“So this really is probably their best time to attempt a negotiation, because it’s only going to get worse for them,” he said, as the Trump administration injects new resources into the war for the start of the traditional fighting season this spring.
“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.
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 General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in January.
Over the same period, the watchdog said, the number of districts under Afghan government control or influence fell to its lowest level since December 2015.