Page last updated at 12:13 GMT, Sunday, 8 March 2009

Obama hints at talks with Taleban

US Army sergeant speaks with villagers about the security situation in Main, Afghanistan, in February 2009
Making alliances with Afghan tribes is a tricky process, say analysts

President Obama has suggested there could be talks with moderate elements of the Taleban in Afghanistan as part of a process of reconciliation.

Mr Obama told the New York Times that US forces in Iraq had persuaded some Islamic radicals alienated by the tactics of al-Qaeda to co-operate.

He said there might be similar opportunities in Afghanistan, although the situation there was more complex.

Asked if the US was winning in Afghanistan, Mr Obama replied: "No."

A month into his presidency, Mr Obama authorised the deployment of up to 17,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan.

US President Barack Obama

You have a less governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes

President Obama

More than seven years after US-led forces ousted the Taleban regime in Afghanistan shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks in America, the militants have regrouped and are waging an intensifying insurgency.

At an event on Sunday in Kabul to mark International Women's Day, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said it was "good news" that Mr Obama had backed talks with moderate elements of the Taleban.

"This is the Afghan government's long stand," he said. "We wanted this and we support and stand with them to bring peace and stability to this land."

Correspondents say the notion of reconciliation with the fundamentalist Islamic movement appears to be gathering momentum as a way of reining in the escalating violence in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama and his advisors are reviewing the US strategy on Afghanistan, and have looked at what has worked in Iraq.

"There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region," he told the New York Times on board Air Force One.

After discussing US success in reaching out to its enemies in Iraq, Mr Obama added: "The situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex.

Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan urges the US to talk to the Taleban

"You have a less governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes.

"Those tribes are multiple and sometimes operate at cross purposes, and so figuring all that out is going to be much more of a challenge.

"I think we still have to think about how do we deal with that kind of scenario," he added.

Some foreign diplomats have also long advocated moves to reach out to the Taleban or at least moderate elements within the group, in search of a political settlement.

This weekend a former British special forces commander said the UK's effort in Afghanistan was "worthless".

"We hold tiny areas of ground in Helmand and we are kidding ourselves if we think our influence goes beyond 500 metres of our security bases," ex-SAS commander Maj Sebastian Morley told a newspaper.


Correspondents say coalition forces face three types of insurgent in Afghanistan:

  • fighters with links to al-Qaeda (deemed to be irreconcilable to the Kabul government)
  • nationalists, whose primary aim is to expel foreign forces
  • Afghans who joined the insurgency for personal reasons, such as abuse at the hands of the authorities

Security analysts believe the last two types of fighter could eventually be reconciled to the government.

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