'Modest' results in wooing Taliban: British general

8th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

An Afghan bid to persuade Taliban fighters to lay down their arms has made "modest" progress so far, with about 10 percent of insurgents switching sides, a British general said Thursday.

The vast majority are low-level fighters and two-thirds came from more peaceful provinces in the north and west, said Major General Phil Jones, who oversees the NATO-led force's role in the "reintegration" effort.

Much smaller numbers of insurgents in the volatile south and east have crossed over but the Afghan-led effort is gaining momentum, said Jones, adding that the initiative required painstaking work to build trust.

Of roughly 25,000 insurgents, 2,418 have agreed to give up the fight since the policy was launched in July last year, Jones told reporters in Washington via video link from Kabul.

The "hard-core" Taliban, however, have not abandoned the insurgency in significant numbers and "we're just starting to get some contact" with discreet negotiations under way, he said.

"Of course, on the surface, it's clear that the number of formal reintegrees is still relatively modest in comparison to our scale of ambition," the British general said.

"But today, a year into this process, we're seeing more significant groups begin to flow in across the country."

Insurgents who give up the fight have to register their weapons with the authorities and the Afghan interior ministry enters their biometric details into a database.

The ex-insurgents then receive a three-month stipend of 120 dollars a month and are offered training or jobs on local development projects funded by international donors.

Jones acknowledged that trying to persuade insurgents to give up the fight was a "tough process" and that a small number of fighters who crossed over have been killed, despite security assurances.

Afghan authorities, backed by NATO, tell ex-insurgents that every effort will be made to protect their safety, and prominent ex-Taliban leaders can also be taken off target lists, he said.

But, Jones added, "you can't deliver a perfect guarantee."

A dozen insurgents who switched sides in the northern province of Baghlan were killed by the Taliban at the outset of the reintegration effort and more recently, a former commander was killed in Kunduz and three Afghans acting as mediators were assassinated in Zabul in the south, according to Jones.

The attempt to woo rank-and-file fighters coincides with a broader drive by Afghan leaders -- backed by NATO allies -- to launch peace talks with the Taliban.

Although Western powers are increasingly anxious to see peace talks move ahead, so far no serious negotiations have begun despite some secret US-Taliban contacts reportedly made in Germany and Qatar.

© 2011 AFP

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