KABUL, Afghanistan — Fueling momentum for a political solution to the nearly nine-year-old Afghan war, a U.N. committee is reviewing whether certain people could be removed from blacklist that freezes assets and limits travel of key Taliban and al-Qaida figures, the top U.N. representative said Saturday.
Delegates to a national conference, or peace jirga, held this month in Kabul called on the government and its international partners to remove some of the 137 people from the list — a long-standing demand of the Taliban.
"De-listing was one of the clear messages coming from the peace jirga," Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. representative in Afghanistan, told reporters. "The U.N. is listening to what the peace jirga is saying. Some of the people in the list may not be alive anymore. The list may be completely outdated."
A committee is expected to complete its review at the end of the month and give its recommendations to the U.N. Security Council, which will make the final decision on whether to remove any names off the list. The U.S., Britain and France, who maintain troops here, wield veto power on the council and would have to agree to changes on the list.
"If we want the peace jirga to produce results, we need to keep momentum," de Mistura said. "The aim is not war, it is reconciliation. And reconciliation ... can only take place through constructive inclusion."
The peace jirga also supported the release of some Taliban prisoners in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and at Bagram Air Field north of the Afghan capital. As a goodwill gesture to the militants, Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised to make the detainee issue a priority and de Mistura said the U.N. supported efforts to release prisoners detained without legal basis.
Peace overtures to the insurgents come at a time when the U.S. and its partners are ramping up military operations, especially in the Taliban's southern heartland. The Taliban also announced their own offensive last month aimed at forcing foreign troops from the country.
That has led to a sharp rise in bloodshed. So far this month, 39 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan, including 27 Americans. In the latest fighting, five Afghan police and three NATO service members died Saturday in separate roadside bomb blasts.
The policemen were riding in a vehicle that struck a bomb in the Khakrez district of Kandahar province, provincial Police Chief Sher Mohammed Zazai said. Also on Saturday, a bomb planted in a push cart exploded in Kandahar injuring 10 people, including civilians and Afghan policemen, said Zelmai Ayubi, spokesman for the provincial governor of Kandahar. In a village near Kandahar on Wednesday, 56 people were killed and 24 others were wounded when a 13-year-old boy detonated his vest of explosives at a wedding celebration, Zazai said.
NATO said an American service member died in a roadside bomb attack in northern Afghanistan. Poland's Defense Ministry said one Polish soldier was killed and eight others were wounded in an explosion in Ghazni province. NATO reported a third service member death in southern Afghanistan, and the Defense Ministry in London said he was British.
As the Polish death was announced, the country's prime minister, Donald Tusk, said it wants NATO to develop a plan to end its mission in Afghanistan. Poland has some 2,600 troops in Afghanistan, making it the seventh biggest troop contributor to NATO's mission there.
De Mistura made his announcements on the same day that Karzai met at the presidential palace with his vice presidents, several other government officials and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, to discuss the security situation in Kandahar province where there is rising tension among tribes that have little connection to the Karzai government.
McChrystal said Thursday at a NATO meeting in Brussels that the campaign in the Taliban's spiritual birthplace would unfold more slowly and last longer than the military had planned. He said the slower pace reflected the difficulty in getting local residents to trust the international forces and the Afghan government.
"Throughout the province, there are power brokers and drug lords who exert their influence on the people," said Tony White, a spokesman for NATO's top civilian representative, told reporters at a briefing Saturday. "In the city, where the lack of governance is very evident, there is general lawlessness and pervasive corruption."
"The insurgents are lurking in the background trying to make matters worse by exploiting these tensions and driving a wedge between the public and their government with indiscriminate violence, targeted assassinations and a whisper campaign that tries to convince the people that their government will never come for them."
Earlier this year in neighboring Helmand province, tens of thousands of U.S., Afghan and NATO forces launched a major military offensive intended to wrest Marjah, a Taliban stronghold and a center of the lucrative opium trade, from insurgents. After the February offensive, the international force and the Afghan government have worked to win the support of residents with development projects and improved security. Still, some militants have melted back into the community where they still wield influence.
The area remains a danger zone for civilians and combat troops alike.
It will take three to four months to allay the fears of Afghans living in central Helmand where the Taliban still threaten to kidnap, attack or kill residents seen to be cooperating with the Afghan government or international forces, said German Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, the chief spokesman for the NATO-led force.
Whether NATO can achieve success in Marjah and surrounding districts will be a key test of McChrystal's strategy, which pairs a military buildup with political dialogue and more government services and reconstruction in areas where the Taliban hold their greatest sway.
NATO officials say more progress has been made in delivering government services to nearby districts, but concede it's slow-going in Marjah where the Afghan central government had virtually no presence before the offensive. Since the Afghan security forces are staying on in Helmand, NATO officials hope that violence carried out by the Taliban eventually will erode public support for the insurgency.
Separately, more than three dozen schoolgirls were treated Saturday after becoming ill from suspected poisoning at their high school in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan. Hospital workers said the girls were vomiting and could not stand on their feet when they arrived at the hospital, but were in stable condition after treatment.