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Page last updated at 19:12 GMT, Monday, 27 July 2009 20:12 UK

US, UK urge Taliban 'integration'

Richard Holbrooke: "This war won't be over in a year"

Top American and British officials have called for the inclusion of Taliban fighters who renounce extremism in Afghanistan's political life.

Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to the region, told the BBC the integration of such people had been neglected.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said including moderate Taliban members in dialogue could help stability.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai also struck a conciliatory tone towards any Taliban prepared to renounce violence.

"If they repent and regret and announce that publicly, then for the sake of peace... I'll be very much willing to talk to them," said Mr Karzai, the leading candidate ahead of the 20 August presidential election.

The olive branches were extended as officials confirmed the first phase of the UK-led offensive in the south had ended.

Britain's Ministry of Defence said that Nato troops would now focus on holding territory gained in Helmand province under Operation Panchai Palang (Panther's Claw) ahead of the polls.

The offensive - which started in June and has involved 3,000 soldiers - has led to a spike in casualties.

Two more British soldiers were killed in separate incidents in Helmand on Monday, officials said, taking the UK toll from the operation to 11.

US Marines this month launched their own offensive - Operation Khanjar (Thrust of the Sword) - to flush out militants in Helmand.

'Intense pressure'

Speaking to the BBC, Richard Holbrooke said that the Taliban were "under intense pressure", with their funding sources seriously undermined.

But the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan said a new priority was bringing more Taliban fighters into the political process.

"There is room in Afghan society for all those fighting with the Taliban who renounce al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, who lay down their arms and who participate in the political life of the country," he said.

Taliban militants in Ghazni province (file image from 2008)
Taliban fighters needed to be given alternatives to violence, officials said

The leading presidential candidates all agreed that this was an area that had been neglected, he said.

His remarks echoed those of Mr Miliband, speaking at Nato headquarters in Brussels.

The Afghan government had to develop "effective grass-roots initiatives to offer an alternative to fight or flight to the foot soldiers of the insurgency", he said.

A distinction needed to be made, he said, between "hard-line ideologues" who must be defeated and those who could be "drawn into a political process".

"Essentially this means a clear route for former insurgents to return to their villages and go back to farming their land, or a role for some of them within the legitimate security forces," he said.

Taliban 'deal'

In a separate development, the Afghan government says the Taliban have agreed a ceasefire in an insurgent-held area to allow polls to take place smoothly there.

A presidential spokesman said the deal applied to the north-western province of Badghis.

But a spokesman for the Taliban later denied that a deal was in place, reports from Afghanistan said.

Meanwhile, the US military in Afghanistan said it would no longer make public the number of insurgents it killed in anti-Taliban operations.

The military said publishing the figures distracted from its real objective of improving the lives of Afghans and separating people from the insurgency.

Civilian deaths caused by military operations against the Taliban have caused considerable anger in Afghanistan.



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