By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) - The U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, on Tuesday backed the Afghan government’s peace process with the Taliban and its efforts to hold talks with Pakistan, according to an Afghan official.
Mattis arrived in capital Kabul on an unaccounted visit -- his third since taking charge last year -- during which he met President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.
He also met NATO-led Resolute Support personnel and other top Afghan government officials to discuss the military effort and the potential for peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan said in its statement.
Afghan president's spokesman Dawa Khan Menapal told Anadolu Agency Ghani peace efforts with the Taliban topped the agenda of talks.
“The secretary of state pronounced the peace process as an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process, and assured that the U.S. and rest of the international community backs it,” Menapal said.
Issues related to counter-terrorism operations and support for the security and defense forces were also discussed, he added.
Ghani hailed the new U.S. strategy for South Asia that allowed American soldiers more authority and resources to target militants in Afghanistan without any time restrictions unlike the previous administration under former U.S. President Barack Obama.
“The strategy by the U.S. towards South Asia and Afghanistan has changed the environment and created opportunity to focus more on the peace process.
“That is why at the Kabul Process conference we have presented [a] comprehensive proposal for peace with the Taliban and state-to-state talks with Pakistan,” the presidential palace quoted Ghani as saying in a statement.
It added that Mattis said the U.S. backs peace offers to the Taliban and state-to-state talks with Pakistan.
Ghani recently offered the Taliban recognition as a political party, freeing of their prisoners and removal of sanctions in return for end to fighting, shunning ties with foreign terrorists and respecting the Afghan Constitution. Taliban so far have not responded to the offer.
Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of waging an “undeclared war” against Afghanistan via the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, an allegation that Islamabad denies.