Obama Signals Readiness To Talk To Taliban

President Obama, in a newspaper interview this weekend, signaled a possible strategy shift for the war in Afghanistan. And as CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports from Washington, it would involve a new approach to some members of America's long-standing nemesis: the Taliban.

They are the sworn enemies of the United States - the fighters who openly support America's enemy number one - Osama bin Laden.

And President Obama, who is now reviewing his war strategy in Afghanistan, says it may be time to talk to them.

Aboard Air Force One, he told the New York Times, we're not winning now.

"Our troops are doing an extraordinary job in a very difficult situation," the president said. "But you've seen conditions deteriorate... The Taliban is bolder, I think."

The president, who visited Afghanistan during the campaign, is considering talking to less extreme elements of the Taliban, just as U.S. forces did in reaching out to Sunni militants in Iraq.

"There may be comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the Pakistani region," Obama said.

Negotiating with the enemy is how wars are ended - that from one of the minds behind the surge strategy in Iraq.

The Taliban is made up of many tribes and leaders, some of whom may be ready to talk, Dozier reports.

"I think there are 'small t' Taliban we can negotiate with, and 'big t' Taliban who are going to have to be captured or killed, just like al Qaeda," says John Nagl, a senior fellow at the Center for the New American Security.

Those who only joined because they couldn't find another job somewhere else, or those who have been treated harshly by al Qaeda, may be ready to deal, Nagl says.

The hard part will be sorting friend from foe in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan, Dozier reports. Some are ideological purists, driven by religion. Others are loyal to a warlord or tribe. And all are separated by a hostile terrain.

"To try and peel off, try to isolate and marginalize the very hard core ones and then try to protect the population," says Karin Von Hippel with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The strategy itself is good if they can do it right. It's very difficult. It's very nuanced."

But until NATO can train enough Afghan forces to offset the Taliban, they need to find another way to stop the growing violence.

Analysts call the Obama interview a carefully controlled trial balloon by the White House. They already know their forces on the ground are going to have to work with some elements of the Taliban. They've got to start getting the American public used to that concept before the president makes it official, Dozier reports.
By Kimberly Dozier