NATO's top commander in Afghanistan confirmed Friday that the coalition has provided safe passage for top Taliban leaders to travel to Kabul for face-to-face negotiations with the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Petraeus declined to provide details of the alliance's role in the clandestine talks _ discussions that he described as "preliminary." Many Taliban figures have reached out directly or indirectly to the highest levels of the government, but there are no formal peace talks under way.
"Indeed, in certain respects we do facilitate that, in that _ needless to say _ it would not be the easiest of tasks for a senior Taliban commander to enter Afghanistan and make his way to Kabul if (the International Security Assistance Force) were not willing and aware of it and therefore allowing it to take place," he said. "That's about as far as I can go on that."
Petraeus told reporters at the Royal United Services Institute that the solution to ending the 9-year-conflict rests in the hands of the Afghans themselves. Though he did not elaborate, U.S. officials have said NATO and the Americans were not mediating the talks, only helping to facilitate them.
U.S. officials have said they hope the talks will become a "game changer" in the war _ though there are many complicating factors, such as what might be expected of the U.S.
Petraeus, who appeared at RUSI with Ambassador Mark Sedwill, the alliance's top civilian representative in Afghanistan, sought to highlight the accomplishments that have followed the troop surge of last year.
But his trip to Britain has been overshadowed by the death of Linda Norgrove, a British aid worker slain during a botched rescue mission last week.
Petraeus acknowledged Friday that footage shot during the failed mission clearly shows a grenade being used by a member of the rescue team.
Officials initially claimed that Norgrove was blown up by her captors as NATO forces moved in to free her. But it later emerged that may not have been the case, forcing British Prime Minister David Cameron to make a televised statement acknowledging that she may have died at the hands of her rescuers.
Petraeus said that, despite the video evidence, it still wasn't clear how Norgrove died. But he acknowledged that the confusion had been embarrassing.
"It was disturbing, clearly, not to have the correct facts on the morning after the operation," he told an audience at the institute.
Petraeus said that while the operation had been monitored by both U.S. and British officials on several different video feeds, the error only came to light after viewing footage from a hard drive, yielded a sharper picture.
After that, he said, "it was very clear that there was a throwing motion and an explosion following that, and that a grenade had been employed."
Petraeus did not say what kind of grenade it was.