General McChrystal: Taliban could be part of solution in Afghanistan

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, told the Financial Times that high-level political negotiations with the Taliban could help bring an end to the conflict.

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    General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) and Commander of United States Forces in Afghanistan arrives to attend at the 13th Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) Meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan on Jan. 20.
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The commander of US forces in Afghanistan said that Afghan government negotiations with the Taliban could be part of a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, in an interview published Monday.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal's remarks, though hardly the first mention of talks with the Taliban by a US military official, come before an international conference on Afghanistan in London Thursday expected to address a framework for Afghanistan to become responsible for its own security.

In an interview with the Financial Times published Monday, McChrystal said high-level political negotiations with leaders of the Taliban could help bring an end to the conflict.

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“I think that [negotiation] is in the purview of the government of Afghanistan to do, but I believe that a political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome. And it’s the right outcome. I think that the re-integration of fighters can take a lot of the energy out of the current levels of the insurgency. Then I think you open up the option, the possibility, for everybody to look at what’s the right combination of participation in the government here.

When asked if senior Taliban leaders might eventually become government leaders in Kabul, McChrystal said “I think that anybody who dedicates themselves to the future and not the past, and anybody whose future is focused on the right kinds of things for Afghanistan,” might participate in government. He also said he hoped the international community would walk out of the conference Thursday with a “renewed commitment” to the “right outcome” for the Afghan people.

McChrystal’s position on negotiations with the Taliban is not groundbreaking. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command, which overseas US forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan, took the same position in October 2008, as Reuters reported. But McChrystal’s statement could be aimed toward influencing Thursday's conference in London.

His comments also come after the leader of the UN mission in Afghanistan called Sunday for the removal of some Taliban leaders from the UN’s terrorist list as a step toward beginning negotiations, reports The New York Times.

A draft communiqué for the London conference focuses on committing the international community to creating a framework for the transition of security responsibility to the Afghans, reports Reuters. The document says that transition would begin in 2010 and that coalition forces may move to a supporting role in a number of provinces by 2011. The document outlines the establishment and international funding of a national reintegration organization that will reach out to insurgents “who are prepared to work peacefully within the constitutional framework and have no links to terrorist groups such as [Al Qaeda]."

The Daily Telegraph reports that a central point of the conference will be to rapidly increase the size of the Afghan Army and police forces so that they are capable of taking responsibility for security in Afghanistan, a position US officials and military commanders have long encouraged. The newspaper reports that NATO and the Afghan government will set the goal of growing the Army from 100,000 to 172,000 by October next year. The Telegraph reported that the Afghan minister of defense says his forces aim to be "self-reliant in the next three to five years."

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