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Obama considers reaching out to Taliban: report

US President Barack Obama said in an interview that the United States is not winning the war in Afghanistan and hinted at possible talks with moderate elements of the Taliban.

world Updated: Mar 08, 2009 11:01 IST

US President Barack Obama said in an interview released on Saturday that the United States is not winning the war in Afghanistan and hinted at possible talks with moderate elements of the Taliban.

Highlighting the success of the US strategy of bringing some Sunni Iraqi insurgents to the negotiating table and away from Al-Qaeda, Obama told the New York Times that "there may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the Pakistani region."

The strategy in Iraq had been deployed by General David Petraeus, then commander of US forces in the country.

"If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al-Qaeda in Iraq," Obama said in the interview published in the online edition of the Times.

But Obama warned that Afghanistan was not Iraq, and that reconciliation efforts could face difficulties.

"The situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex. You have a less governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes. Those tribes are multiple and sometimes operate at cross purposes, so figuring all that out is going to be a much more of a challenge," he said.

During his presidential campaign last year, Obama told Time magazine that opportunities to negotiate with some Taliban elements "should be explored."

Asked by the Times if the United States was winning the war in Afghanistan, which he has called the "central front in the war on terror," Obama simply replied: "No."

"You've seen conditions deteriorate over the last couple of years. The Taliban is bolder than it was. I think in the southern regions of the country, you're seeing them attack in ways that we have not seen previously," he said.

"The national government still has not gained the confidence of the Afghan people."

US-led forces ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, but Islamist militants regrouped in recent years and are waging an intensifying and spreading Taliban-led insurgency.

Shortly after taking office in January, Obama launched a review of US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan that is set to be delivered before he heads to Europe on March 31 for a round of international meetings.

In his first major decision as commander-in-chief, he ordered the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, saying they were needed to stabilize a deteriorating security situation.

Part of the troops' role will be to help boost security during Afghan presidential elections now set to take place in August.

"We've got to recast our policy so that our military, diplomatic and development goals are all aligned to ensure that Al-Qaeda and extremists that would do us harm don't have the kinds of safe havens that allow them to operate," Obama said.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is widely believed to be hiding in the mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, a known haven for Taliban extremists.

"At the heart of a new Afghanistan policy is going to be a smarter Pakistan policy. As long as you've got safe havens in these border regions that the Pakistani government can't control or reach, in effective ways, we're going to continue to see vulnerability on the Afghan side of the border," Obama said.

More than two dozen suspected US drone attacks have been carried out in Pakistan since August 2008, killing more than 200 people, most of them militants.

Pakistan is a key ally in the US-led "war against terror" but the missile strikes have fueled anti-American sentiment in the country, particularly in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.