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NATO backs Taliban talks: Sign of a shift in Afghanistan war?

NATO said Thursday that it is allowing Taliban leaders to travel to Kabul for talks with the government, suggesting that the West might be considering new options in the Afghanistan war.

By Staff writer / October 14, 2010

Gen. David Petraeus (l.) leaves 10 Downing Street in London Thursday after meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Both the US and Great Britain have announced plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2011.

Sang Tan/AP



NATO’s confirmation that its forces are facilitating talks between Taliban leaders and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a sign that the Afghanistan balance could be shifting from warfare to settlement – and the eventual withdrawal of Western combat forces.

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With President Obama’s surge of US forces in Afghanistan complete, this was supposed to be the time for breaking the insurgency’s momentum to create more favorable conditions for peace negotiations.

Though those conditions have clearly not yet arrived, NATO decided to guarantee safe passage to senior Taliban leaders taking part in the talks – though NATO is not taking part in the talks itself.

It is an indication that the surge has not progressed as planned, forcing the US and its allies to open the door wider to other options, says Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington and a former Pentagon official.

“What happened is that, even though we may have wanted things to move in a different manner, this is what Karzai wants and what he was determined to do,” says Mr. Korb.

The Western facilitation of the talks joins other recent pointers suggesting the war may be more “wind down” than “ratchet up” – with Western nations focusing on a military-to-civilian shift.