Leaders of the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan have shown no interest in a negotiated end to the war, despite an intensified and increasingly effective NATO military offensive, a senior Obama administration official said Friday.
Richard Holbrooke, special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said recent news reports of extensive discussions between Afghan government officials and senior Taliban commanders were off base. He said there have been no such talks or discussions, let alone negotiations.
Individuals who have fought alongside the Taliban _ apparently not Taliban leaders themselves _ have been reaching out _ "picking up the phone, metaphorically or literally" _ and saying, "I've had enough of this war. I'd like to talk to you," he said. Holbrooke mentioned no names but said those who are making such contacts are "provincial leaders, individual commanders."
Those individuals are "feeling the pressure" from a stepped-up offensive by NATO forces, he said, speaking to reporters hours after returning from Kabul.
"This is not, however, the kind of high-level talks which all of you are writing and speculating about," Holbrooke said. "And those are not taking place; they're just being written about. And there's a great confusion in the readers' minds. There's less here than meets the eye. There's no indication at this point that the Taliban leadership wishes to change its course."
Last week NATO and U.S. officials offered a somewhat different description of the level of insurgents involved in the contacts.
Mark Sedwill, NATO's top civilian representative, said on Oct. 20 that the insurgents who had been in touch with the Afghan government included "significant members of the Taliban leadership." He, too, however, said the activity was preliminary. "It's not even yet talks about talks," he said.
The top NATO commander, Gen. David Petraeus, said Oct. 15 that coalition forces had provided safe passage to unspecified senior Taliban leaders who were talking to the Afghan government.
Petraeus called the talks "preliminary," and more recently he has been quoted as calling them "pre-preliminary."
The Taliban deny that any of their representatives have been involved in talks.
In his remarks at the State Department, Holbrooke also said encouraging progress has been made in resolving a dispute between President Hamid Karzai's government and international organizations in Afghanistan over use of foreign guns-for-hire to provide security.
Karzai on Nov. 15 will announce new rules for private security companies, Holbrooke said.
"This will outline the process by which there will be a transition from the current situation, which is intolerable and untenable, to a point where private security companies do not exist or exist only under conditions that the government's comfortable with," he said.
"We now are going to work out the details between now and Nov. 15 for an orderly transition," he said.