March 13 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made a surprise visit to Afghanistan's capital Tuesday with an interest in pursuing peace talks with the Afghan government.
The visit came after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently invited the Taliban to discuss a political settlement. In a proposed trade-off for peace, Ghani offered the Taliban a chance to be recognized as a legitimate political party and withdraw their names from international sanctions lists.
The defense secretary said he is focused on peace and reconciliation, something that could be mutual as reaching a settlement was "picked up from the Taliban side" even before Ghani's invitation for peace talks.
"We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan," Mattis told reporters while on a military jet heading to Kabul.
Expecting an entire ceasefire might be a "bridge too far," but "we've had some groups of Taliban -- small groups -- who have either started to come over or expressed an interest," in engaging in talks, Mattis said.
"It may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop ... but there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government," he said.
Ghani said a peace process would bring forward "those who want to separate themselves from international terrorist organizations and terrorist activities."
"I think we will succeed, and we hope and pray that our international friends and our regional friends will stay with us, and that people on the other side, the Taliban, will see that this is their best chance and we hope that they will take a chance that is offered earnestly and for the good of our people," Ghani said.