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Taliban could come in from the cold -

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SHANE MCLEOD: In the United States the White House is signalling that the President Barack Obama is
moving away from any big surge in troop numbers in Afghanistan and towards acceptance of a role for
the Taliban in the country's future.

"Official" leaks from inside the Obama administration have come after days of closed door talks and
ahead of National Security Council discussions that will decide future US strategy and troop
numbers.

From Washington John Shovelan reports administration officials say while there could be a role for
the Taliban in the Afghan Government the US will not allow the Taliban to assume control of the
country.

JOHN SHOVELAN: An authorized leak today from the White House indicates the President doesn't intend
to send tens of thousands of more combat troops to Afghanistan.

A senior administration official is quoted saying President Obama is prepared to accept some
Taliban involvement in Afghanistan's future and the official goes on to say the President is
inclined to send more troops only to fight Al Qaeda.

US intelligence believes that there may be only 100 Al Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was also careful to make a distinction between Al Qaeda and the
Taliban, representing Al Qaeda as the threat to the United States.

ROBERT GIBBS: The President has wanted us to evaluate the threat that emanates from this region. I
do think there is clearly a difference between an entity that, through a global transnational
jihadist network, would seek to strike the US homeland.

The Taliban are obviously exceedingly bad people that have done awful things. Their capability is
somewhat different though on that continuum of transnational threats.

JOHN SHOVELAN: The Obama administration may be accepting that the Taliban is part of Afghan culture
and can't be defeated.

The officials said in the first two war council sessions President Obama kept returning to one
question for his advisers: "Who is our adversary"?

ROBERT GIBBS: We've been focussed on Al Qaeda as the primary, again global threat that emanates
from that region based on its past attacks and its intent to continue doing so.

JOHN SHOVELAN: But the US fight now in Afghanistan is primarily against the Taliban. Dr Marc
Sageman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday even if the Taliban returns to
Afghanistan, Al Qaeda won't necessarily follow.

MARC SAGEMAN: The Taliban is really a collection of rival and fractious groups united against us
but lacking the ability to coalesce in the future, or in the near future I should say, into an
offensive force capable of marching onto Kabul.

Taliban return to power does not automatically mean an invitation to Al Qaeda to return to
Afghanistan. The relationship between Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, with a major faction
constituting the Afghan Taliban, has always been strained.

This provides the US Government with the opportunity to play on internal rivalries and use
political skills and economic incentives to discourage the Taliban from hosting Al Qaeda again.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Tomorrow is the fourth meeting of the President's war cabinet in the past fortnight.
President Obama will begin examining the request for more troops from his commander General Stanley
McChrystal.

The General sent a range of options to the President understood to be between 10 and his preferred
option of 40,000 more troops.

John Shovelan, Washington.