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Can the US be pals with the terrorist Taliban?

McCain and Obama need to say if they back Karzai's talks with the Afghan Taliban.

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The McCain campaign may want to be careful with its charge that Barack Obama was once "pals" with a 1960s American terrorist. Whoever is the next president faces a difficult choice in the Afghanistan war: Should the US support possible talks with the Taliban, pals of Al Qaeda?

General David Petraeus does. And as President Bush often says, he takes the advice of top generals.

As architect of the troop surge that helped turn the Iraq war into an exitable and low-level conflict, Gen. Petraeus will soon become head of the US Central Command and thus responsible for American military operations in Afghanistan.

Several NATO commanders there say this seven-year old war, launched after 9/11 to oust both the Taliban regime and Al Qaeda, has become unwinnable and that only political reconciliation with Taliban insurgents can bring it to a close. A report by US intelligence agencies finds the recent escalation of the war has put Afghanistan in a "downward spiral."

Last month, Taliban figures and the Afghan government reportedly met in Saudi Arabia. (Both sides, appropriately, deny it.) Such an unusual breakthrough, however, led Petraeus to give advice this week on how to handle such talks: "You've got to set things up. You've got to know who you're talking to. You've got to have your objectives straight – all the rest of this stuff."

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