The top US military officer said Saturday that the Taliban "are not losing" in Afghanistan, and much more needs to be done to bring peace to the war-torn country.
"They are not losing right now, I think that is fair to say," Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the Taliban during a discussion at a security forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "We used the term stalemate a year ago and, relatively speaking, it has not changed much."
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Dunford said that while there would never be a "military solution" on its own to bring peace to Afghanistan, the United States and its Nato partners are working to leverage military, political and economic pressure to convince the Taliban it is in their interest to negotiate a political solution to the crisis with the government in Kabul.
"Without going into detail here, we do believe the Taliban know that at some point they do have to reconcile," he said. "The key to success is to combine all that pressure to incentivize the Taliban" to negotiate.
While Dunford said recent elections in Afghanistan were "largely successful" and noted the importance of next year's presidential election there, he added, "I think we are a long way," from being able to say that point of reconciliation with the Taliban has been reached.
As part of the administration's strategy to bring about a political resolution to the 17-year war, President Donald Trump announced an increase in US troops last year that brought the total number in the country to about 14,000.
Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was recently named the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation and has traveled repeatedly to the region for discussions with national governments and the Taliban to try to jump-start a dialogue.
But progress toward ending the decades-long conflict has proven elusive.
Earlier this month, the US government's ombudsman for the American effort in Afghanistan issued a report that said the Taliban have strengthened their grip on the country over the past three years, with the Afghan government in Kabul controlling only about 56% of the country -- down from 72% in 2015.
And Afghan security forces who took the lead from the US in 2014 on efforts to secure the country are still suffering a high number of casualties in their battle against the Taliban.
Defense Secretary James Mattis told an audience in Washington last month that Afghan forces had sustained "over a thousand dead and wounded" in August and September in their effort to protect Afghan parliamentary elections in October.
"They stayed in the field fighting, and the Taliban has been prevented from what they said they were going to do, which was to take and hold districts and provincial centers, and also disrupt an election that they were unable to disrupt," Mattis said.