US and Afghan governments begin three-way peace talks with Taliban

The U.S. government has launched into three-way peace talks with the Afghan government and Taliban, a senior military official in Afghanistan told Fox News.

The talks come as Afghan President Hamid Karzai also visits Pakistan in a bid to press for that country's cooperation. Pakistan is vital because the leaders of both the Taliban and the affiliated Haqqani network are thought to be based in the country and in contact with Pakistani intelligence officials.

The senior military official said the three-way talks are just one of several developments officials are monitoring.

"The talks are something we, of course, are conscious of and are watching, but there are other issues that we are interested in resolving, such as detention facilities control, night operations and the future growth of the Afghan Army," the official said. "These are all ongoing."

The United States may be looking to wind down the military operation in Afghanistan at an accelerated pace. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this month that he hopes U.S. and NATO forces can "transition from a combat role" by mid-to-late 2013. U.S. and NATO forces face a 2014 withdrawal deadline.

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    An Obama administration official told Fox News that "an Afghan peace process" is key to the overall strategy in the war.

    "Insurgencies generally end with a political settlement and we believe Afghanistan needs a political process to help put an end to this conflict," the official said. "Our military campaign has set the conditions for initial reconciliation discussions to begin taking place."

    The official, while not going into detail, said "the government of Afghanistan has been kept fully informed of our discussions."

    The official said the conditions are clear -- the Taliban must "break from Al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan Constitution, including its provisions on respect for the rights of all Afghans, including women and ethnic minorities."

    The Wall Street Journal first reported on the three-way talks. Karzai, whose government was left out of recent talks, told the Journal he thinks most Taliban members are "definitively" interested in a settlement.

    "People in Afghanistan want peace, including the Taliban. They're also people like we all are," Karzai said.

    He added: "There have been contacts between the U.S. government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban."

    The Taliban have recently been opposed to dealing with the Karzai government.

    Retired Gen. Bob Scales, a Fox News military analyst, expressed reservations about the talks but said the weak Afghan government needs to find a way to separate the most "radical" elements of the Taliban from the rest in order to seek stability before NATO withdraws.

    "The only chance the government's got of achieving stability in the country is to, if you will, break the Taliban apart," Scales said Thursday.

    Meanwhile, the Pentagon has detailed part of its plan for eventually shifting away from a combat mission to one focused on training and advising Afghan forces as they gradually shoulder more of the combat burden.

    The Army on Wednesday identified five U.S.-based brigades, as well as an Army reserve organization, that will be reconfigured and sent to Afghanistan between April and August to "generate, employ and sustain" Afghan forces.

    To read more on this story, see The Wall Street Journal article here.

    Fox News' Justin Fishel and Ed Henry and The Associated Press contributed to this report.