Petraeus: Taliban Have Reached Out to Reconcile

In this photo reviewed by the U.S. military, the top American commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus, center, tours the grounds of the U.S. run Parwan detention facility near Bagram north of Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday Sept. 27, 2010. The U.S. military opened the new prison named after the surrounding Parwan province in November to replace the original facility in an effort to improve living conditions and reintegration programs. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
AP Photo/David Guttenfelder
Top Taliban leaders have made overtures to reconcile with the Afghan government, the top commander in Afghanistan said Monday.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has long said that he will talk to insurgents if they renounce violence, sever ties to terrorists and embrace the Afghan constitution. Publicly, the Taliban have said they won't negotiate until foreign troops leave Afghanistan, yet there are many indications that backdoor discussions have occurred.

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"There are very high-level Taliban leaders who have sought to reach out to the highest levels of the Afghan government and indeed have done that," Gen. David Petraeus told reporters after touring a U.S. detention center near Bagram Air Field - the main American base in the country.

Reconciling with Taliban leaders is being "pursued by the Afghan leadership at the very highest levels," Petraeus said.

"President Karzai's conditions have been very clear, they're very established and certainly we support that, as we did in Iraq, as the United Kingdom did in Northern Ireland," Petraeus said. "This is the way you end insurgencies."

While opposed by some factions within Afghanistan, talking with the Taliban is gaining traction as thousands of U.S. and NATO reinforcements seek to reverse the insurgents' momentum. Neighboring Pakistan and other nations are beginning to stake out their positions on possible reconciliation negotiations that could mean an endgame to the nearly 9-year-old war.

Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said Karzai was waiting until after he announces the members of his High Council for Peace before initiating any formal talks. That announcement could occur as early as this week.

"For the past couple of years we have had signals from different levels of Afghan Taliban wanting to reconnect with the government," Omar said. "We haven't had anything formal as yet."

CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark reports NATO has confirmed the gesture and that the move is significant in two ways: it is part of Karzai's big idea to get Taliban back into the fold of Afghan society and NATO forces believe that it's a sign that Taliban insurgents are weakening because they are reaching out to the Afghan government.

In an interview with The Associated Press and other news agencies in late August, Petraeus said that Karzai's efforts to reconcile with top Taliban leaders were "beyond the surface, but they are certainly in the early stages."

"He is the one who is pursuing this, but there have been some ways that we have facilitated some of the contact," Petraeus said.