Taliban offer opportunities for peace talks

In America's longest running war, both Taliban and US commanders find common ground against ISIS. CNN's Sam Kiley reports.

Posted: Sep 4, 2018 11:29 AM
Updated: Sep 4, 2018 11:39 AM

Faced with a resurgent ISIS threat and emboldened by recent gains on the battlefield, two senior Taliban field commanders suggested they are open to peace talks with the Afghan government after 17 years of war.

The highly unusual conciliatory words come as Pentagon officials and new US leadership in Afghanistan also focus on seeking peace with the Taliban, switching their military efforts to destroying ISIS' Afghan franchise, the so-called Islamic State in Khorasan (ISIS-K).

ISIS-K is seen as the most dangerous potential threat to US and other Western security evolving in Afghanistan.

US defense department officials said that while the Taliban continued to be a source of instability, it was unlikely to pose any kind of international danger.

"It's ISIS and al Qaeda we should be going after," said one US officer, who did not want to be named.

There is a strong view in the US' defense and intelligence departments that its forces should not pull out of Afghanistan until the threat from ISIS has been eliminated -- and a fear that the entire Afghan operation, involving about 15,000 US troops and costing an estimated $45 billion this year, risked being shut down on a whim by the Trump administration.

"We're one tweet away from Trump saying, 'That's it -- it's over,' and that would be very dangerous for the US. It could bring the world a terrorist superstate," said one senior US officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

This uncertainty has created anxiety over the US' involvement in Afghanistan as it approaches 17 full years of war, as civilian deaths are at the highest level since the United Nations started keeping records 10 years ago, and as the Taliban appears to be dominating the battlefield with a string of short-term successes, including almost overrunning Ghazni, roughly 130 kilometers south of the capital Kabul.

Some comfort for the US and its Afghan government ally can be derived from a growing split within the ranks of the Taliban. An unusual agreement between the Taliban and coalition is that ISIS-K is the greatest, and shared, enemy.

In response to questions from CNN, Taliban commanders in Herat, northwestern Afghanistan, said they would fight to rid the country of all foreign influences but that fighting among Afghans was fruitless.

"Peace negotiations should be among Afghans and by Afghans. We should not wait for Pakistan, Iran, Russia or America to bring peace in Afghanistan. We have lost many young Afghans. We have orphans, we have widows -- if people from government die they are Afghans. If Taliban die they are Afghans," said Mullah Sher Agha, one of the commanders.

His comrade, Mullah Abdallah Khan, signaled a similar openness to the idea of talks, saying: "Fighting doesn't have any result except destroying both sides."

They both answer to Mullah Mohammed Rasool, who split with the Talibs of eastern Afghanistan because, his supporters said, they get support from foreign countries like Pakistan.

Taliban factions control a relatively small percentage of Afghanistan, according to US Special Inspector General for Reconstruction. About 56% of the country is under government control but a third is "contested."

Those figures relate to the situation at the end of last year, and the scale of Taliban successes means that contested areas are likely to have expanded.

This may explain why Taliban leaders on the battlefield are feeling confident enough to raise peace talks.

Talks are seen as a strategic necessity by many US commanders who no longer stick to the argument that the Taliban can be defeated militarily.

"You don't need to keep killing your fellow Afghans. You don't need to keep killing your fellow Muslims. The time for peace is now," said the outgoing US commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, General John "Mick" Nicholson, to the Taliban in a valedictory speech in Kabul on Sunday.

"The entire world is encouraging you to accept the offer of a ceasefire and enter into peace talks. Most importantly, the Afghan people are asking you to settle your differences peacefully. Whose voice is more important? The outsiders who are encouraging you to fight? Or the voice of your own people, who are encouraging you to peace?"

Back-channel efforts made by, among others, the US and Russia, to bring the Taliban and the Afghan government to the negotiating table have been going on for months.

These efforts will get a fillip from support among the battlefield commanders who now believe that ISIS-K is the top priority.

"Our enemy is first ISIS, then the government," Khan said.

He will draw some satisfaction, then, from the US confirmation that a senior ISIS-K leader, Abu Sayed Orakzai, and 10 of his followers were killed in an American airstrike 10 days ago.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 727764

Reported Deaths: 13397
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion995211738
Lake53461965
Allen40457675
St. Joseph35506550
Hamilton35489408
Elkhart28433441
Tippecanoe22359218
Vanderburgh22284396
Porter18668307
Johnson17905377
Hendricks17180315
Clark12930191
Madison12592339
Vigo12431246
Monroe11858170
LaPorte11821210
Delaware10648185
Howard9865216
Kosciusko9378117
Hancock8251140
Bartholomew8052155
Warrick7771155
Floyd7649177
Grant7027174
Wayne7026199
Boone6679101
Morgan6555139
Dubois6150117
Marshall6005111
Dearborn579277
Cass5788105
Henry5688103
Noble558883
Jackson500872
Shelby490296
Lawrence4505120
Harrison434772
Gibson434692
Clinton427053
DeKalb426484
Montgomery423588
Whitley394739
Huntington389080
Steuben383857
Miami380666
Knox371890
Jasper363847
Putnam358860
Wabash353379
Adams340654
Ripley339170
Jefferson328881
White313254
Daviess295899
Wells291081
Decatur284292
Fayette279262
Greene277385
Posey271033
Scott265453
LaGrange265370
Clay259146
Washington240032
Randolph239781
Spencer232031
Jennings229549
Starke215453
Fountain212046
Sullivan211142
Owen198156
Fulton194740
Jay192530
Carroll188320
Orange182654
Perry182637
Rush172925
Vermillion168543
Franklin167735
Tipton162445
Parke145916
Blackford134632
Pike133234
Pulaski116445
Newton107234
Brown101641
Crawford99314
Benton98414
Martin88315
Warren81715
Switzerland7848
Union70810
Ohio56411
Unassigned0414

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1081518

Reported Deaths: 19428
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1256551400
Cuyahoga1117782115
Hamilton798901205
Montgomery513291014
Summit47080945
Lucas42049788
Butler38301584
Stark32242906
Lorain24958481
Warren24262298
Mahoning21511588
Lake20618369
Clermont19747238
Delaware18503133
Licking16410212
Fairfield16160199
Trumbull16019468
Medina15247264
Greene15043244
Clark13970299
Wood13065189
Portage12825203
Allen11626232
Richland11323199
Miami10661217
Muskingum8799133
Wayne8784211
Columbiana8766229
Pickaway8551121
Marion8514135
Tuscarawas8470244
Erie7871154
Hancock6906127
Ross6842155
Ashtabula6792170
Geauga6677148
Scioto6405101
Belmont5873167
Union570348
Lawrence5546102
Jefferson5521151
Huron5427119
Darke5347123
Sandusky5337120
Seneca5275121
Athens518858
Washington5153109
Auglaize489584
Mercer480385
Shelby468893
Knox4483110
Madison435561
Putnam4278100
Fulton421669
Ashland421489
Defiance419297
Crawford3970107
Brown393857
Logan381576
Preble379398
Clinton371263
Ottawa366679
Highland354662
Williams338575
Champaign331458
Guernsey315653
Jackson312151
Perry294850
Morrow284639
Fayette281550
Hardin270664
Henry268466
Coshocton264557
Holmes2593101
Van Wert243363
Adams237752
Pike237534
Gallia235349
Wyandot230855
Hocking215262
Carroll191247
Paulding172540
Meigs144740
Noble133337
Monroe132042
Morgan108323
Harrison107637
Vinton82815
Unassigned02
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 44°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 43°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 45°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 44°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 44°
A cold start Saturday with widespread frost expected. We'll see plenty of sunshine for most of the day. Then, clouds build in during the late afternoon and evening.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events