US scholars believe Afghanistan's Taliban has been wrongly perceived as ideological allies of Al-Qaeda, The New York Times reported late Sunday.
Citing a report to be published Monday by New York University, the newspaper said authors of the study think the guerrilla group could be persuaded to renounce Al-Qaeda.
NATO plans to begin this year handing Afghan forces the security lead in the battle against Taliban rebels, province by province, with the aim of giving them full responsibility across the nation by 2014.
The alliance hopes to build up Afghan security forces to 306,000 soldiers and police by the end of the year to begin taking over from around 140,000 foreign troops fighting across the nation.
According to The Times, the university report says there was substantial friction between the groups' leaders before the September 11, 2001, attacks and that hostility has only intensified.
The authors, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, have worked in Afghanistan for years and argue that intensified military operations against the Taliban may make it harder to reach a settlement.
The report, "Separating the Taliban from Al Qaeda: The Core of Success in Afghanistan," says attacks on Taliban field commanders and provincial leaders will leave the movement open to younger, more radical fighters and will give Al-Qaeda greater influence, the paper pointed out.
The authors suggest that the United States should engage older Taliban leaders before they lose control of the movement.
The authors do not oppose NATO's war, but suggest that negotiations should accompany the fighting, The Times said.
A political settlement is necessary to address the underlying reasons for the insurgency, they write. Otherwise, they warn, the conflict will escalate.