The U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan government are launching an initiative to persuade Taliban insurgents to lay down their weapons, offering jobs and protection to the militants who choose to abandon their fight.
While President Hamid Karzai's government has been trying to woo these insurgents for years, the new program marks the first time that the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces are systematically reaching out to Taliban fighters.
The tactic comes as the U.S. prepares to announce Tuesday how many additional troops it will send to Afghanistan as part of a new strategy aimed at bringing the eight-year war to a successful end. U.S. officials also hope America's European allies will raise their troop contributions as part of the new push.
The Afghan government has had a reconciliation program in place since 2004, and claims to have turned more than 8,000 insurgents. That program, however, is widely derided as corrupt and ineffective. Insurgents were enticed with offers of jobs but rarely received the promised assistance, leading many to rejoin the fight.
Western officials behind the new reconciliation program say they believe the majority of insurgents are fighting for money — the Taliban often pay their members — or personal grievances. Luring such men from the battlefield is a central component of America's new counterinsurgency strategy crafted by U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top allied commander here.
"It is an issue of dialogue — we need to establish respect, even if they are the enemy," said Graeme Lamb, a retired British general who spearheaded a similar effort to turn Sunni insurgents in Iraq, and who oversees the campaign out of NATO headquarters in Kabul.