Afghan exit strategy takes shape ahead of London talks

Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:30pm EST
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By William Maclean

LONDON (Reuters) - Politicians and Western army chiefs mapped out the contours of an Afghanistan exit strategy on Monday, with three generals holding out the possibility of an eventual peace deal with the Taliban.

British army chief General Sir David Richards told Reuters negotiations with the Taliban could be considered but must be done from a position of strength. "So it's a matter of timing, not the principle."

He spoke ahead of a conference in London expected to agree a framework for the Afghan government to begin taking charge of security in line with a 2011 timetable set by President Barack Obama to start drawing down U.S. troops.

His comments echoed those made by senior U.S. army chiefs, including General David Petraeus, who said the fighting would get harder before the situation improved as Washington sends an extra 30,000 troops to break a stalemate in Afghanistan.

But both Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, and General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, held out the possibility of eventual talks with the Taliban leadership to end a war now into its ninth year.

"The concept of reconciliation, of talks between senior Afghan officials and senior Taliban or other insurgent leaders, perhaps involving some Pakistani officials as well, is another possibility," Petraeus told The Times newspaper.

McChrystal said he hoped increased troop levels would weaken the Taliban enough for its leaders to accept a peace deal.

"It's not my job to extend olive branches, but it is my job to help set conditions where people in the right positions can have options on the way forward," he told the Financial Times.   Continued...

<p>General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and commander of United States Forces Afghanistan, delivers a speech to the Conference of Defence Associations in Ottawa in this December 16, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>