The United States says it will engage in direct talks with the Taliban in an effort to bring the war towards an end, upturning its previous stance that any peace negotiations would be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned”.
The Taliban has long demanded direct talks with the US; it regards the Afghan Government as illegitimate.
The US-led invasion in 2001 removed the Taliban from power, but 17 years on, about 45 per cent of the country’s districts are once again either Taliban-controlled or contested.
The US decision to negotiate directly with the Taliban comes nearly a year after President Donald Trump announced his revised South Asia policy, which centred on boosting combat power and pressuring Pakistan in an effort to bring the Afghan war to an end.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kabul briefly last week, and it is believed diplomats have been laying the groundwork for talks between the two sides.
The commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, said there is hope direct talks can move the peace process forward.
“And our Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk with the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces,” General Nicholson said.
“Since 2014, the narrative in Afghanistan has centred around the idea of an ‘Afghan solution’, and coalition efforts have gone into upskilling and enabling the Afghan military to run the war with reduced foreign assistance.”
But fractures and infighting, as well as corruption within the Government and security forces, have made it easier for the Taliban to either gain territory or to surreptitiously gain influence over parts of the country through providing services like justice, communications, education and taxation.
Struggling to reverse Taliban gains, the Afghan army has also had to deal with the emergence of a lobal branch of Islamic State militants.
A recent three-day ceasefire between the Afghan Government and Taliban after Ramadan created momentum for continued negotiations towards an eventual political settlement.
No dates have been set for any US-Taliban talks.