Gates: Contacts Between US, Taliban Are ‘Very Preliminary’

Posted June 19th, 2011 at 10:55 am (UTC-5)
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Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged recent contacts between the United States and the Taliban but says any substantive progress in reconciliation between the Afghan government and the insurgents is probably months away.

Gates spoke on U.S. television Sunday, in one of his last interviews before stepping down from his post June 30. He said though there have been contacts in recent weeks between U.S. diplomats and the Taliban, the contacts are “very preliminary” at this point.

He said there has been outreach toward the insurgent group by a number of countries. But he noted that the process is complicated, even to the point of locating the Taliban members with the most authority to negotiate.

Gates spoke a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the United States and other foreign forces are holding talks with the Taliban aimed at ending the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan.

The United States is set to start withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan in the coming weeks. U.S. President Barack Obama has discussed plans for the drawdown with his top commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, but has not announced how many troops initially will leave the country.

Afghan security forces are slated to take control of all security operations by 2014. Afghan and coalition forces continue to face stiff resistance in the Taliban's southern strongholds, as well as an influx of foreign fighters in the east of the country.