US Defence Secretary arrives in Afghanistan

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U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Kabul in an unannounced visit, Tom Gresback, the spokesman of U.S. and NATO's Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, told newsmen.

The March 13 visit, which was not announced in advance due to security concerns, comes as the United States is putting new resources into the more than 16-year-old war.

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side", Mattis said.

The Taliban is likely to miss an Afghan peace conference at which participants are set to call for direct talks between the militant group and the government of President Ashraf Ghani, the foreign ministry in Uzbekistan said on Monday.

In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Bakhtawer blamed Taliban insurgents, who have stepped up attacks in the province in recent months against Afghan security forces.

The United States a year ago stepped up its military assistance to Afghanistan, notably through a sharp increase in air strikes, with the aim of breaking a stalemate with the insurgents and forcing them to the negotiating table.

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The president also said the government will provide passports for Taliban members and their families, along with office space in Kabul.

"We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan".

Mattis told reporters that the goal is to convince the Taliban militants that they can not win, which would hopefully push them toward reconciliation.

"Right now the district headquarters and the area around it are under control of the Afghan security forces", Rahimi said, adding that "fighting is ongoing in three different parts of the district" as Afghan forces pursue the Taliban.

"It's all working to achieve a political reconciliation, not a military victory", Mattis said.

The Taliban has previously offered to hold talks on a possible peace agreement, but only directly with the United States, which Mattis rejects.