Representatives from 60 nations will meet in London on Thursday for a conference on Afghanistan, looking at the future and that well-used phrase "the way ahead." The one-day conference will be co-hosted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Afghanistan President Karzai and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (Karzai speaks to the media with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, above).
After so many years of war, this conference will focus heavily on trying to reach a peace with at least some Taliban fighters.
Sen. Carl Levin, Democrat from Michigan and the Armed Services Committee chairman, just returned from Afghanistan. "[A] thing to watch is whether or not President Karzai and we can come up with a program for reintegration of those lower level Taliban which will chip away at the power of the Taliban and help to support the efforts of the Afghan security forces," he said.
At Thursday's summit, Karzai is expected to ask for $500 million for an initiative to offer jobs and homes to moderate Taliban fighters, helping them return to civilian life.
U.S. commanders acknowledge the need to bring at least some lower level Taliban leaders into the political and social fabric of Afghanistan. When asked if the Taliban could play a role in the future of Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander, said, "I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future, and not the past."
But reality remains harsh. U.S. military intelligence calculates the Taliban now have shadow governments in 33 of 34 provinces - raising questions about whether they see a need to come to the negotiating table.