by Charles Lemos, Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 10:24:09 PM EDT
The UK Guardian reports on concerted effort to start unprecedented talks between the Taliban and British and American envoys.
Senior ministers and commanders on the ground believe they have created the right conditions to open up a dialogue with "second-tier" local leaders now the Taliban have been forced back in a swath of Helmand province.
They are hoping that Britain's continuing military presence in Helmand, strengthened by the arrival of thousands of US troops, will encourage Taliban commanders to end the insurgency. There is even talk in London and Washington of a military "exit strategy".
Speaking at the end of the five-week Operation Panther's Claw in which hundreds of British troops were reported to have cleared insurgents from a vital region of Helmand province, Lieutenant-General Simon Mayall, deputy chief of defence staff, said: "It gives the Taliban 'second tier' room to reconnect with the government and this is absolutely at the heart of this operation."
The second tier of the insurgency are regarded as crucial because they control large numbers of Taliban fighters in Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan. The first tier of Taliban commanders - hardliners around Mullah Omar - could not be expected to start talks in the foreseeable future. The third tier - footsoldiers with no strong commitments - are not regarded as influential or significant players.
Operation Panther's Claw is a recently concluded campaign in Helmand Province conducted by British troops. British commanders hope that campaign will prove a decisive turning point in the eight-year conflict. The operation took nearly 3,000 British troops, many engaged in gun battles, to capture an area of 150 square miles. The advances helped to secure the territory with a population of 80,000 which had been held by a estimated Taliban force of 500.