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U.S. Supports Afghan-Taliban Reconciliation, With Caveats

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2009 – The United States “is fully supportive” of the Afghan government’s attempts to reconcile with Taliban members, as long as the Taliban accept the will of the people who elected that government, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.

“There has to be a willingness to work with the government, to respect the government, to turn your arms away from Afghan national security forces and [International Security Assistance Force] forces and U.S. forces that are there,” Morrell said.

Conceding that he has no definition of a “moderate Talib,” he said he believes some members of the Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan “are so radicalized that they … are irreconcilable.”

He pointed to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar as an example. “I don’t believe anybody in this building … would support the notion of reconciling with people who have that kind of blood on their hands -- the blood of American citizens,” Morrell said.

But ultimately, decisions about who to reconcile with rest with the Afghan government, he said. “Short of … avowed al-Qaida and Taliban who supported their efforts in Afghanistan to launch attacks on the U.S. and our allies, if the Afghan government wishes to undertake a reconciliation process with them, that’s a decision for them,” Morrell said. It’s “one which we should support, clearly.”

Morrell emphasized that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan isn’t unilateral.

“We are there to deny a safe haven to the terrorists and to help the Afghan people bring a measure of peace and stability,” he said. That, in turn, will ensure that terrorists can’t reassemble there and use it as a base to launch attacks against the United States and its allies.

Morrell’s comments echoed those Vice President Joe Biden expressed yesterday at NATO’s North Atlantic Council in Brussels, Belgium. Biden said reconciliation with the Taliban is worth exploring, but emphasized that the effort must be left up to the Afghans.

Biden’s comments are consistent with those Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has expressed over the past several months, as well as statements President Barack Obama has made, Morrell told reporters today.

About 5 percent of the Taliban are incorrigible and must be defeated, Biden said during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Another 25 percent are unsure of their commitment to the insurgency, he said, and about 70 percent are involved solely because they’re getting paid to be.

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